Fashion as storytelling

Designers / 18 September, 2017

Fashion designer, stylist and a curious observer of everything around him. It is by telling stories that Pedro Pedro finds his motivation and fulfils his creative call.

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Pedro Pedro is inspired by the male universe to create feminine, protective and relaxed collections. We meet in his atelier in downtown Porto. His desk is covered with infinite fabric samples, pencils and pens of all colours and organised in the center, we have a sneak peak of the first drafts of his next collection.

You started your career in 1996, at a time where fashion design was taking its first steps in Portugal. How did your interest in the area begin?

I’ve always loved to paint and draw. By the age of 12, I started to take oil painting lessons. When I found myself in a great indecision about what to do after finishing high school, my mother, who used to see my school books full of sketches, told me that she had heard about a course that was 90% drawing and the rest was theory, a fashion design course. I was like “ok, it seems interesting, let me see”. That’s how I had my first contact with the branch. I joined Citex [now Modatex], where I studied for two years. After that, I finished my education in Academia de Moda do Porto.

What was your first professional experience?

When I went to study to Academia de Moda, Nuno Eusébio, the course director at the time, set a task to design uniforms. That first experience was very important for my path, because right from the beginning I had a perception of the real world and learned how to adapt to the clients’ demands. The school was really good, but at the time I studied it still lacked this real world element. When we talk about fashion in Portugal twenty-something years ago, it was all at the beginning. Our companies worked mainly on export and all the ideas came from abroad.

Our industry continues to invest mainly in exports. What do you think has changed over the years?

I think there have been major steps forward. Our companies’ CEOs are getting younger and, usually, new generations have a different perception of the product. You have more and more specific products, more targeted, and you have brands and companies that are already dedicated to producing only one type of garment. I believe that this might be the way forward and I think the time is now, because Portugal has a very positive image abroad. There are areas doing great work: footwear, jewellery, tourism, music… I feel that, suddenly, everything came together and now all these areas are expanding and disseminating. Nowadays, “made in Portugal” is a precious commodity.

How does this emerging “made in Portugal” image reflect in your brand?

For us designers and for me, because I am not associated with a company, everything happens step by step. This means to grow slowly and extent of the possibilities depend on what is happening. I have had partnerships with some Portuguese companies, such as ATB Malhas and Dom, who support me with materials and the production of the pieces. I have also noticed that, for instance, at the international fairs where I participate, people are more interested in and pay more attention to what is done in Portugal. But I do not want to, nor did I ever want to be a mass brand. I’ve always known that I want to be niche.

When did you decide to create the Pedro Pedro brand?

After that first experience I told you about, I spent two years working at a textile company, but I became bored and disappointed. That’s when I decided to leave fashion design and move to the Algarve, where I worked for a few years as an air traffic controller at the airport. My return to fashion happened in 2003, when Academia de Moda challenged me to participate in the contest “I Mode You European Fashion Awards”. There was something inside me that told me I should go for it! So I did, was selected and ended up winning first place. It was also in that same competition that Isabel Branco, who was part of the jury, invited me to present my collection at Portugal Fashion.

Did this invitation mark your definitive return to fashion design?

Yes, I started by presenting three seasons at Portugal Fashion under the brand Pedro Pedro. In 2004, my friend Júlio Waterland, from my time at Citex, had just returned from doing his Masters Degree in London and we started talking about sharing costs and responsibilities. That was how the Pedro Waterland brand was born, which we presented at Moda Lisboa and Paris Fashion Week. In 2008, we ended this collaboration and then I decided to continue my journey on my own. Since then, I have moved from the Moda Lisboa catwalk to that of Portugal Fashion, I have also been participating by invitation in Milano Moda Dona – Milan Fashion Week.

Beyond your brand, do you have other projects under development?

My brand is my main occupation, but fortunately, there is always something else happening. Not long ago I had a partnership with the shoe brand Basilius and my time was divided between the two projects. I also taught at Escola de Moda do Porto for three years. More recently, I have been working as a stylist and styling assistant and currently I am creating catalogues for brands. It’s a very different work, more inventive compared to drawing collections. Whilst within my brand the vision is all mine, when I am styling I have the possibility to construct imaginatively by mixing together pieces from other brands and designers.

What fascinates you about your job?

The possibility to tell new stories, that’s what I like. I think fashion design and styling complement each other because, when I do my collections, that is the whole idea. It is funny, people tell me that when they see my work they feel something, whether it is from the music, from the place where I present my work or from the type of model and hairstyle that I choose. That is why I always like to use very real girls. I want people watching the show to identify themselves and translate what they are seeing for themselves.

Tell me about your collection for autumn-winter 2017/2018.

When I think of a collection, I usually start with shoes. After working at Basilius, I realised that I love drawing shoes, because it allows me to focus on the product. The collection I presented for autumn-winter 17/18 is inspired by the sea and began precisely with a partnership I made with Dom, a company from Aveiro that produces rain boots and fishing boots. I am known for using natural wool and materials, but this time I felt like doing something unexpected and challenged myself to do something I had never done before. I looked for more technical materials, like rubber and glossy waxed finishes. Suddenly, everything came together. I also wanted to play graphic games with blue, red and green to ensure that everything was in stark contrast to the pastels and sober colours that I usually use. The shapes are very large and protective, although the fabrics are very light.

You’re already working on your spring-summer 2018 collection. What can you tell us about it?

For this summer collection, I’m going to build on the winter one and I can tell you that the inspiration is an 80’s feeling and Grace Jones’ attitude. It is modern, minimal and urban. I will use fluorescent colours and reuse technical materials, even lighter. This collection is going to be light as a feather! I’m going to transpose materials that are used for anoraks to skirts and dresses. That’s something that also defines me, the exploration of the male-female. A lot of my pieces are also worn by men and I like that my brand has no gender.

Even though your brand is for women, do you think about expanding it to men or even as no gender?

In terms of patterns and shapes, I have pieces that work for men or women. They are somewhere in between. For instance, the coats are tailored for men, because usually women care less about where the zipper is. Not long ago I saw a production in which a man was wearing my pants. I have two or three pieces from the last three seasons that I drew for a woman, but when I try them on I really like them on me. It has been happening a lot, because fashion is something really individualised. But the truth is I can’t divide myself. What I really like is to transpose the male universe to women.

Often you’ve talked about specialising in one kind of garment. Is that something you want to explore in the future?

I think that, in terms of development, it would be interesting and there are plenty of advantages in doing it, but it is something that I don’t intend to explore. I get bored easily and I always need to think about the whole look. Other than selling clothes, the brand also sells a lifestyle. Coats, dresses and skirts are the pieces that I sell the most, but maybe if I only sold those pieces the brand wouldn’t be so interesting. But I think it’s a path to be followed and I believe that I can focus on a product that represents the bulk of the sales and then leave the rest of the work as a complement. That could be really interesting. For example, I sold a lot of coats at the last fair I participated in and now that I think about it, I realise that maybe that’s why I have been focussed on this more and more.

How do you describe your creative process?

When I design a new collection, my working process is something really closed and I turn my focus on myself. I always need to encourage and challenge myself to do something new. I don’t know if I ultimately come out of my comfort zone, but it is something that I care about and that makes me wonder: “What haven’t I done yet? What references haven’t I searched yet? What story haven’t I told yet? Who is this girl?” The theme is never the first thing that occurs to me. I draw without seeing the fabrics. It is only afterwards that I look for the materials. When I apply the materials to the drawings and the result is not what I’m looking for, I draw it all over again.

Where do you get the inspiration to answer those questions?

It depends a lot on the collection and on what’s going on. Lately I find myself seeing many streetwear images and street-looks during fashion weeks. Other times, movies are the inspiration. I can’t really explain it, because it is something very intuitive. I spend a lot of hours on blogs and tumblrs and I see a lot of stuff that doesn’t speak to me, but suddenly something appears that goes “click” and ends up inspiring me to create something new.

Is this inspiration from street style about having a vision to create for real people?

I had never really thought of it that way or had ever said it using those words, but the answer is affirmative. I like to create unusual pieces but for them to still be accessible. Street style images make me wonder how far one can go. There are so many trends and they are so open that, basically, everything is in fashion and at the same time, not. It’s funny, because when I pick up a magazine from 1998, 2001 or now it’s all very similar. It’s strange, because sometimes I feel like a rat running around without knowing why and at other times I feel like I’m doing the most important thing in the world. It is a love-hate relationship. On one hand, I have the feeling that everything has already been done, but on the other hand, I feel that I can still tell a new story and look for something that people will find interesting.

Does this will to continue and to keep people guessing keep you moving?

I’m not saying that I don’t do this for validation, because obviously I enjoy that people like my collections. But the truth is I already have a lot of people that look specifically for my clothes. I do this because I like it. I do not go to parties or move in media circles. I’m a homebody and usually people don’t even know who I am. Last year, I was in Paredes de Coura festival with some friends and a young man came to me and told me “Your jacket is really cool” and I thanked him. After a while, another girl came and told me “I love your clothes”. My friend next to me was crying with laughter, because they were talking about my brand and I hadn’t realised that they weren’t talking about me. These things are starting to happen to me and it’s really good to feel that people recognise me for what I do.

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