Marques’Almeida: Love as an equation

They have London as their home, but in September they swapped the ‘land of the Queen’ for the city of light. They are one of the brands abroad Portugal is most proud of. And if there is a name that describes this pair — which completes phrases and ideas in an almost orchestrated way — love will always be the chosen word.

We met Marta and Paulo after their debut in Paris. After the confusion of backstage and the music that boomed out at Palais de Tokyo, the Portuguese duo are now preparing a showroom week. Line ups, shoes, new collection, ideas. All in a grey space, where we met them. Creativity jumps out from the couple’s eyes. Marta, responsible for creative direction and brand management, and Paulo, designer and transformer of Marta’s ideas, are what we call a ‘perfect symbiosis’.

Marques’Almeida… Was it difficult to choose that name?

P: I don’t think we had any other choice. There was never really a focus on the name. We knew it was not the most important.

How did this story begin?

M: We have been together for a long time — as a couple and as a design duo — since we studied fashion at Citex, in Portugal. Although we had always done much alone, we always support each other. When we came to London for the internship, and after taking the course at Central Saint Martins, we thought that it would be time to combine the effort and skills we realised we had during all the years we were studying together.

And the brand started soon after. We did the end-of-course collection at Saint Martins and the next collection was presented as Marques’Almeida.

Was the LMVH award a turning point?

M: It was a notable moment. And it was, above all, when things stopped being so improvised and became more organised. The team grew enormously: we went from 4 or 5 to 15. We started to have a structure for production, logistics, communication and sales. Before that…we did all this on our own!

It was primarily a moment of affirmation. To have the LMVH — with the most respected people in the world — Raf Simons and Karl Lagerfeld — responsible for awarding the prize. It was an incredible moment both professionally and personally.

P: I remember we entered a room and spoke to these incredible people about our work.

M: Moreover, this award has the advantage of being a prize chosen by a jury of designers and creatives. So… we spoke as one creative to another. It was just for a few minutes, but it was very valuable in terms of personal appreciation.

Was winning the prize unreal?

P: Completely. First, because we had competed the year before. However, the experience is very enriching, because the first phase (with 30 to 40 people) allows all these creatives to talk to us about our work.

When we went through to the second phase everything became very real. But what we wanted at that stage was to make sure the interview was as honest as possible about who we are and what we do.

M: It was a surprise, a good surprise.

What has changed?

M: It gave us a chance to create a more organised company and to get more investment. We were in a very demanding phase with few resources: we made 3 collections a year and we had never had any investment.  It helped establish a more stable structure.

Who is Marques’Almeida?

(laughs) Here’s a question we should be able to answer, but we can’t! We try to be a brand very much linked to the people around us and to a sense of fashion that is very realistic and very engaged with the community.

Why create a community?

M: It happened unintentionally in London. We started having private clients who were girls our age, who were starting to work in magazines (photographers, designers, etc.) and who started identifying with our products.

P: We went to London to learn. Many other people did the same, just like us. When we started the brand we started meeting people at the same phase. These people were growing with us. For example, there is a girl who works on our show in Paris. She is a stylist by profession and she came to our studio 7 years ago because she wanted to choose some items to use in the magazine.

M: We want to continue to create these communities.

Is there a brand DNA?

M: There’s never anyone specific. We never imagined any kind of person. I think it’s necessary to be a type of person, with a certain kind of rebellion, without being a show-off. For example, our M’A girls are completely different: one studies human sciences, the other is a photographer, a plastic artist, a biologist… who doesn’t study at all because she dropped out of university.

P: We have always had a fascination with realism and an obsession with this variety of people. I think we always wanted to have that match-up in our collections. That is our DNA.

M: I think we always try to incorporate the personalities of our clients into each piece. Three of our M’A girls, for example, are sisters and their mother uses our products. It has everything to do with attitude.

Is that why you decided your show would be with real women?

M: Completely. It is very important for us for fashion to have a sense of realism. And that it is not glamorised: that it is especially inclusive and diverse.

P: Above all, we do not want to sell an image of what is not real and to create bad things in society. It is wrong to create the image that fashion is supposed to be like that, when no-one will be able to be like that… If I am not 6 feet tall I will never be 6 feet tall.

M: In my opinion, for these girls who do shows and who show clothes, their value should not only be in the image but also in the attitude and personality.

P: It is important that the girls who are reading magazines realise this: it is not just the image that counts. This is very important to us.

Is fashion moving in that direction?

P: We want to do it this way.

M: I hope so. But we are a bit disillusioned with what the industry is capable of. I think there are some great people who together have made a difference.

There is a system and many things involved that complicate it. But we shall carry on.

What does fashion ask of us?

P: For us it’s exactly that. It should ask for the feeling of personal expression, of experimentation, of individuality, of personality, of diversity. There is a social responsibility that any cultural activity has — and that fashion must have.

All your pieces have a kind of appeal for Portugal. Was this deliberate?

M: These are our roots. I think that appeal has been there for a long time, but unconsciously.

P: Yes… it was intrinsic and we had no idea. There’s the whole family value issue. When we started building the MA Girls idea, instead of working with models… it comes from there.

M: The references were all there. For a long time, we did not realise that there was such a Latin influence. We are Portuguese and it seems that there is something innate in disowning what is ours. But no! We realise that all these roots and traditional influences are very close.

First time away from ‘home’. Why Paris?

M: It was a moment of change. We really wanted to try to break the system. The industry is still very formatted…

P: …with many rules, as if we all had to follow a certain formula. And often no-one questions why we have been doing the same things for so long… even if these things no longer work.

M: We wanted to show a collection in Paris that is not the new one, but the one that is in the stores. We thought it made more sense for our final audience.

P: This was not to abandon London, because it ceased to make sense. It was not showing in Paris because ‘it had to be’. It was, rather, to be in Paris because we felt we had to be flexible. Now it’s here, and this does not mean that next time it may be in any other city. As long as it serves to convey our message. For a long time we showed in London what it was to be Portuguese. Now we want to show in Paris a Portuguese who has been in London for a long time.

M: What are we showing, where and how is what we are showing. We are doing what makes sense to our customers and with our community, rather than what makes sense to the industry at large, because that will not be what we need.

You presented a collection that is already on sale and not the one for next season. Why? Will see now buy now be a major commitment for the future?

M: We are still testing and with no pretence of creating something bigger ‘behind’ the brand. We know we need to make a difference and try something out of the usual. It is giving good results. For our community and for our customers it is, undoubtedly, what makes sense. They are younger girls, online, they are addicted to Instagram, everything is immediate. I speak for myself: I do not like to see a product and think that I won’t be able to buy it for six months. I will possibly see a thousand other things in this period and lose focus on what I liked.

Above all, the investment in shows is very large and it makes sense to invest directly in the product. We don’t do fancy or glamour fashion shows, we want the clothes to be used and bought immediately.

How does the creative process work?

P: Marta has always been very good at defining what the brand’s mission is and the concept behind each collection. I’m not programmed for that sort of thing. But I’m obsessed with the detail and the minutiae of production.

M: Detail, proportion… He has what I call the ‘productive eye’. The modelling table is not for me. I’m more focused on the concept.

Is the link between the creative and production components essential?

M: The fact we studied at Citex made all the difference. The proximity to the industry and the awareness of how products appear was essential when we came to London.

Tackling new markets. Has anything changed?

M: The collection was already complete when we decided to come to Paris. It was more a question of bringing our designers-who-have-been-a-long-time-in-London aesthetic to Paris. It was just a matter of context.

And will you return to Portugal?

P: Our connections never ceased to exist: neither personal or professional.

What can we expect in the future?

M: We don’t make plans. None of this happened because we planned it. We operate very instinctively.

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