Who is Joana Barrios?

Text: Cláudia Pinto
Photos: Tomás Monteiro

An interview that could be one of those iconic conversations you only have once in your lifetime. A conversation difficult to break down and almost impossible to replicate in words. More than an interview! We went (to try) to understand who Joana Barrios is. And the conclusion seems to be the same as the one we had at the outset. Who, then, is Joana Barrios, if not a symbiosis if actress, presenter, thinker, costume designer, passionate about fashion?

Today we start the conversation with the shoes. You always start your looks with the shoes. Why?

Always. Because shoes are the only things that define whether a look will work well or not. Imagine: put on some high heels that you have difficulty walking in and then go to the Lx Factory without realising it has an extremely uneven floor… you will have the worst day.

I think this relationship I have with shoes is also very motivated, because here in Portugal we have this typical Portuguese paving, so the way we wear our shoes also has to do with the way we want to live our daily lives.

I read that you had the most enviable wardrobe in Lisbon for those who interviewed you at the time.

Who said that? (laughs)

My question is: how does this happen and how do you create a wardrobe every day?

Well, I come from a great background, don’t I?! I’m from the theatre. And then there’s also the interest in fashion and exploring what fashion is. I think fashion is essentially communication, it’s narrative, it’s a form of non-verbal communication. It has a lot to do with the idea of the social projection of “me”. For me, it is a form of expression, it’s something with many layers, it is not just an item of clothing.

So, for me, dressing often begins as a psychological, ethical, aesthetic, political and often and above all a conscious exercise. Do I have an enviable wardrobe? Well, I don’t know… I sometimes think my wardrobe is normal. When I lived outside Portugal, I often bought items that were very… I wouldn’t say eccentric, but items that were more special that I still have today, especially vintage items from the 1930s and 1940s. Sometimes I give these items away, and sometimes I lend them… I don’t have a great attachment to clothes. They serve a purpose, and then I can decide whether or not to use them, or whether or not to keep them.

Why political?

Clearly when you wear a T-shirt with a slogan you are making a statement. And a statement is a political act. It is an affirmation. You are affirming something.

But fashion has served that purpose for a long time. Do you think it is still happening?

I think if people think this is not happening, then they are being a little naive. One of the reasons I don’t wear T-shirts with slogans is because, usually, if you go to a high street store that sells T-shirts with things written on them, then that message will be shared by a large number of people: it can be a very big thing.

I think that both in Portugal and elsewhere, wearing clothes is not and cannot just be about covering the body. Even people who tell you they don’t have much interest in or don’t care about their clothes, those people will be able to tell you whether they prefer boots to sneakers. There is always a preference. Dressing is like eating. It is so close to you, it is such a direct contact that it is unfair to you to say that your choice is a thoughtless one, that you are indifferent. It’s not indifferent… there is nothing indifferent about your clothes size, there is nothing indifferent about the way you sit… none of this is indifference, they are all choices and becoming more aware of choices is not just something to do with sustainability.

The way you instrumentalize your body is always affirmative. You cannot separate yourself from your individuality, which is ever increasing, be- cause each person is a messenger. Social media make you a potential messenger and a target, but also an attacker, and this consciousness is super cool you realise that it can also exist and that clothing can make this happen.

I would like to talk about this for a moment, because it is said that this industry is very polluting and that there is also a lot of information, which we who are in the industry know is not true. What do you think will be the way forward on this issue?

It is said that the clothing industry is the second-most polluting, after aviation. It is a problem. One of the things I think we must take into account when thinking about sustainability is: there is a chain stretching from the harvest of the plant, in the case of cotton. From the cotton plant to the T-shirt, it is estimated that on average one item of clothing will pass through about 112 pairs of hands before reaching the 113th pair of hands, those belonging to the consumer, and all of a sudden the responsibility all rests on the consumer. The consumer is responsible for purchasing a €2 T-shirt, the consumer is irresponsible for buying a T-shirt they don’t need, the consumer is irresponsible for promoting fast-fashion. But I always ask: what happens at the start of this chain? Because at the start of this process, no-one thought if it would be worthwhile planting that cotton in intensive cultivation and if it would be worthwhile harvesting the cotton, then treating it, dyeing it and then sending it somewhere else… In other words, there is a very long chain before the final product is made, which is then the responsibility of the consumer.

This is a complete paradigm shift about what the industry is today…

About the position of the individual in the industry after 30-40 years of fast-fashion or more mass fashion, and you can’t remove that from your DNA as a human being, because it is there, it exists. You have to understand how you live with it in a more peaceful way.

Joana, and national fashion? What is your opinion of what we’re doing behind doors? What can or should change in terms of national fashion? First of all, do we have a national fashion?

I don’t think there is a notion of national fashion. Fashion is neither national nor international: it’s global. No-one makes things just for Portugal. There’s a notion of the world. I think that people project a lot into national fashion, especially the Portuguese public, through ModaLisboa and Portugal Fashion, which are events designed for the fashion industry. And it’s not like the fashion weeks that take place in other parts of the world, where you have a catwalk here and a catwalk there. So, at least in that sense, I think people want national fashion to be wearable, but it is not an artistic exercise like any other. I think the work of all the people linked to the fashion and creative industries within fashion and design is very exciting, because you are speaking of labels that are produced in a gourmet and sustainable way. They don’t make 40 million blouses. The make 400. These are numbers with which it is possible to live, and to grow in an organic and sustainable way. So what’s happening in Portugal is very positive, and you can learn a lot from them, so I think: “There’s still so much to learn”.

A while ago you were speaking of Armário. You began in theatre. Will you keep it up?

Yes, I will not leave the theatre.

You were never a typical fashion blogger…

And I’m still not. My hair is not long, nor is it blonde or dyed. I don’t unbox beauty products because I am deeply embarrassed by what we are doing to the planet. Each time you receive a box containing 15 lipsticks, that’s 15 pieces of plastic packaging inside 15 pieces of paper packaging with even more packaging, which is beautiful marketing, but then what do you do with it? But what happens is that looking at fashion is looking at and reflecting on what is around you, about society.

The messenger has become more important than the message…

Yes. And then you have everything that surrounds you, but you also have what makes this dangerous, so to say. There’s that American girl, the Blonde Vegan, who sold millions of copies of a vegan food book, but who went on to have problems of poor health, because it is obvious that nobody will survive on green juices for like two years and then end up speaking out and discrediting herself, but on the way she has picked up 50 million followers in her wake. I mean, I don’t think it is at all shameful and nothing negative is advertised. I just think that as an influencer you have to pick and choose what you do. You can’t advertise everything! I am always showing things I don’t get paid for. I come from an artistic background, and I never once in my life thought I’d be rich. Now if there’s an opportunity to explore the commercial side of things, I am not going to say no. Of course, because within this exploration there is also a very important learning process. If you continue to nurture your journey through things that are significant, and with this relationship with clothes, of clothing touching your skin, skin that is the body’s largest organ, for all this I come back to the initial idea where I don’t believe people who tell me they are dressed the way they are by chance. I’m sorry… Everything white, everything black. There is symbolism associated with certain things, there are underlying narratives, there are levels and layers of communication that you may not be aware of, but they still exist.

Was this a part of the logic that appeared in Armário?

Yes. Armário was an invitation from Maria João Mayer and Rita Rolex, who wanted to do something about fashion for RTP2. They called me and suggested I be a presenter and work on the programme’s contents. Eventually, I got to the part where I was working very, very hard on the contents as well as presenting the programme, but it is not a programme about me, it’s about my ideas about fashion and this way that I have, which is apparently very valid, of looking at fashion as a global phenomenon rather than as a magazine trend. And now that I have a bigger audience, what really interests me is talking about these things, to bring them to the table for discussion. And this has happened a lot with Armário. The first series of Armário caused a lot of discussions mainly around the theme of sustainability, focusing on the theme of the future. There were episodes that were received more positively, negatively or indifferently; but there was more positivity than not. The episode dealing with luxury was very popular, because in the search for a definitive definition of luxury we discovered there is no such thing. What is luxury? Luxury is the ability to be seated here speaking for 1, 2, 3 hours. Luxury is many things, it is many different things, it is a very broad and changeable concept.

So, I think Armário is an extension of this way of thinking, but imagine: it is a very communitarian extension, because all the members of the team are active contributors to any content, whether it is set design, makeup, hair or styling. Everything is created for each episode, it is created as a unique piece. Content is researched by me, by Joana Cunha Ferreira, by Rita Rolex, by André Godinho — the director — and there’s a whole team of people who are committed and organised to do this. We also think about our guests in this way; that is, we always want to talk to people who are not in the fashion industry, or who are not only from the fashion industry, because I think that fashion continues to be regarded badly, because people look at fashion in a pejorative, frivolous and futile way, that has no interest.

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