Room 11 of an old Porto warehouse hosts the studio and showroom belonging to Ricardo Andrez. On an afternoon as grey as the facade, the fashion designer is waiting for us at number 203 Travessa do Covelo, wearing an irreverent graphic shirt he welcomes us with a warm smile.
Ricardo Andrez invites us in, sits down and lights up a cigarette, a gesture so relaxed we immediately feel right at home. On the table is an image of a blue blanket with dolphin illustrations. He bought it with the idea of turning it into a jacket, he tells us whilst showing us the pieces he presented in his last collection at ModaLisboa. That improbable mixture of materials, the exuberance of textures and the fearless pairing of colours are already a part of his brand’s imaginary. Speaking with the confidence of someone who knows what he is doing, but without taking it too seriously, he shares the stories, ideas and inspiration behind his path that never cease to surprise.
Did you always want to be a fashion designer?
The first time I realised this I was in high school. During that time, you feel the need to belong to specific groups and tribes. I started thinking about how people dress and behave to feel accepted. When I heard about a career in fashion design from friends, I decided to take the plunge and ended up enrolling in a fashion course at Cooperativa Árvore. After that, I continued my education at the Citex fashion school [now Modatex].
Growing up, were you ever a part of these tribes?
I belonged to a few. Among others, I was preppy, I was a surfer and in the 90’s, I was very influenced by Kurt Cobain’s grunge aesthetic.
After finishing your education at Citex, did you immediately start working in the fashion world?
I actually never finished the courses at Citex. When I reached the final year, I decided to interrupt my studies and spent two years traveling. Only upon returning to Porto did I start thinking about working in fashion, not as a designer straight away, but in fashion production. Those were six years which were spent gathering contacts and understanding the inner workings of the industry, a time I consider fundamental to the unfolding of my own path.
What led you back to design?
In a trip to Madrid, in 2008, I meet a ModaFAD representative who told me about a competition meant for new designers. Without any expectations, I entered my project and ended up winning the prize for best collection. I think that was the catalyst for all of this. Soon after, I was presenting at Barcelona Fashion Week and Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week. In 2010, I was also a part of ModaLisboa’s LAB, where I stayed until 2013, before switching to the main catwalk. During the first season I presented there, I was still working at the production company, but I realised this was what I really wanted to do and decided from then on to dedicate myself exclusively to my brand’s creation.
After spending so much time travelling and starting your journey in Spain, why did you decide to remain living and working in Porto?
During the period I presented in Madrid and Barcelona, I obviously thought of moving to Spain. However, I never really felt I wanted to leave Porto. I believe we are privileged people — right now and the geographic spot we have — because the industry is so close by. If I moved to another country, the network I told you about would have to be built from scratch. In the meantime, after entering LAB, things started happening for me in Portugal too. Looking back, I think it was the best choice to base myself here.
Your studio is located in the same building as fashion photographer Aloísio Brito’s and model agency Best Models’. What are the advantages of working alongside other creative projects?
I came here in 2012, after an artistic residence at Palácio das Artes in Porto. When the residence ended and I had to look for a new place, my first option was to talk to the owner of this place, my former boss at the production company [Eusébio & Rodrigues], who kindly made this room available to me. It is very useful to work alongside other creatives because when I have to photograph, for example, I have everything in-house. This constant exchange between all of us is also very interesting.
Does this mean you usually leave your room and ask for opinions?
Actually, I don’t do that; my working process is very introspective. Even when I have interns working with me, after selecting the fabric, the mood board and the starting point, I give them freedom to interpret it according to the brands’ language. After that, I bring my own ideas, and we debate it all together. However, I like to think about the first sketches and approach on my own and away from here.
When you started to develop your own brand, what were your references?
Designer Henrik Vibskov’s work was always an inspiration to me, but my biggest reference is still Alexander McQueen. Also crucial to me was the 90’s sportswear work of Maria Gambina, who was my teacher at Citex. Two years ago, when she invited me to teach at the ESAD fashion design master’s degree course, it felt great to have the evolution of my work recognised by someone whom I admire and who saw me take my first steps.
With that experience in mind, what advice can you give to aspiring fashion designers?
The advice I give is to follow what you want, what you believe in, as much as possible; to work a lot and be persistent, because this is not as glamorous as it might seem in the beginning. Knock on a lot of doors to start creating a bond with people in the industry, so that they can keep up with your work and path.
While on the subject of relationships with the industry, where do you produce your garments?
If you look around, you can tell I do not have a single sewing machine here. In the studio, we only do the creation part of the work, as well as some patterns. The garment production is all made in Portuguese factories in Santo Tirso, Famalicão and Porto.
Ricardo Andrez was initially a brand designed only for men but in 2014 you started creating for women too. Why was that?
I started designing for men because that is what gives me the most pleasure. Meanwhile, at the end of 2012 I got an agent in Hong Kong and started selling to the Asian market. It was then that I realised I had to think of the brand in a more commercial, sustainable way. In the first two collections, I tried to adapt the same piece for men and women, but that did not work commercially. So, after that, I started to develop a feminine fitting. It was a great challenge because I generally think of clothing in an uncompromising way. However, it is something I am enjoying more now.
Is Asia still your main market?
China, South Korea and the UK are currently my main markets. In Portugal, in a different context, I provide a selection of samples to Scar ID in Porto and ComCor in Lisbon, which can be bought after being presented on the catwalk.
Are you open to producing exclusive pieces?
If it is a challenge to me, I will obviously do it. It has happened before and curiously enough, I am developing such a project right now. It all depends on the person who contacts me and what they are after. The request must be appealing to me and has to share my language as a designer.
How would you define your brand?
Ricardo Andrez is a brand I intend to be near and dear to people, since my goal is for the pieces to be used day to day. It is unpretentious, simple and with some design twists. I always take great care in the comfort aspect of the brand, in the inside features of the pieces and the finishing quality is fundamental to me.
What do you feel when you see someone using a piece you designed?
The first time that happened, I went out of my way to greet the boy who was wearing a t-shirt of mine and introduced myself. I should not have done that because he hated me approaching him. These days it still happens sometimes and I feel glad, it is very gratifying to realise your product is actually out there. Moreover, of course, I immediately think about how that piece fits with the person wearing it and that ends up being an interesting exercise.
On that note, and concerning your showroom sales, can you fix a target audience?
It is very hard to define a target audience for my brand; I think it is as wide as possible. I can tell you a funny example. My biggest buyer in Lisbon never had any interest in coming to a show of mine at ModaLisboa, despite me always inviting him, because he does not relate to that universe. In spite of this, at the end of every presentation, I always get his message from him saying he wants “this, this and this”. And I can tell you; he is a baker. Different people come by the studio and when I think the piece does not work, I always say it. I try to be honest with customers and my own work. Despite wanting to sell, what matters most of all is that the final result is harmonious.
What inspires you when creating your collections?
My life and what I assimilate every day. It can be art, music, theatre, cinema, travelling or even a walk with friends. Despite trying to separate my professional and personal lives, I always end up paying close attention to details in people’s clothes. This happens naturally, even when I am on the subway on my way home.
What can you tell us about your Fall-Winter 2017/2018 collection, Venus as a Boy?
If you take a close look at my previous collections, you almost never find black. In this one though, the colour palette has a very dark foundation. This was something I thought about initially and a challenge I made to myself. When you are working on a collection everything happens so fast and is so stressful that you have to challenge yourself and take pleasure in what you do or else you find yourself working just to produce. The men’s side of the collection relies on straight lines and has closely followed my language up until now. On the women’s side, there was an evolution, an effort to make garments more delicate and fluid. I should also note that, during the material research stage, I was lucky enough to find a sort of latex usually used in the production of rain boots, that could be adapted to clothing, although it had to be worked on manually for several hours.
Once again you presented a collection breaking gender boundaries. What is your opinion on the agender movement in fashion?
What I think is there are no mandatory pieces for either men or women. Even when I designed exclusively for men, all my collections had a dress or a skirt. In this last collection, it was only during the styling stage that I decided which gender I was presenting some pieces for. I think that approach is interesting, because it is most faithful to the piece and to the concept.
Is that a path you aspire to follow?
Yes, I am very interested in working that way. To give more time and more of myself to the free-form construction of each piece. Deep down, I think my brand was always pointed in that direction. I want to continue exploring that and I believe it is possible to achieve it.