Filipe Faísca

Irreverent, creative and observant, Filipe Faísca has his feet more firmly planted on the ground than you would guess from his shows. Today the label’s mark is made in the studio, far from the catwalks, but don’t be mistaken in thinking creativity has been forgotten.

Interview: Margarida Brito Paes

The enormous window spanning the entire width of Calçada do Combro, 95, allows passers-by to watch Filipe Faísca at work. The door opens onto narrow stairs leading to the studio filled with memories. To the right are lit candles dedicated to Our Lady, there are metallic zips on the wall, calligraphed letters and small indecipherable treasures from a career spanning decades. Which was the best moment of them all? “It might seem a bit clichéd, but for someone who has always felt inadequate, there is nothing more gratifying than winning an award,” says Filipe Faísca in reference to his two Golden Globes. Before reaching the studio, the creator takes us on a journey of recollections, extending from his native Mozambique to Lisbon, which he cannot imagine leaving.

Do you remember the first item of clothing you created?

I do. It was a bathing suit. At the time it was very difficult to get jersey material. None of the shops in Beja had jersey. So, I travelled around the fairs because some of the traders sold factory offcuts. There I was able purchase cotton jersey material for the first time. I began by making bathing suits for some of my friends.

What did this bathing suit look like?

It was aqua green because I dyed the material. It was a classic maillot with an open back. But there was a string of shells that came down from one of the straps and around the waist to hang down at one side. It was very naive, with shells I found on the beach.

How did growing up in Beja, a provincial town with little access to products and materials, influence you creatively?

Now I can say to you that things were scarce, but at the time it was all that existed for me. I lived with what I had. There were already things in my mind that were reminiscent of things my mother made, other things that came from Africa, some I saw, others that passed through my hands. For example, linen, of which there was lots at home. My mother also crocheted a lot, but she liked using unusual materials. I was always looking for things in the shops, which often had old collections in stock. I was very influenced by older materials. I remember an old woman who lived near our house, we called her the old hat lady, and this was in Beja’s golden age — when there was a lot of poverty and some people had no shoes — she sold things in instalments of two escudos. However, business went downhill and she was left with too much stock. It was a tiny shop in which everything was piled high. I went there every day and, little by little, I earned her trust and started helping her tidy things away. I found more and more things as I helped tidy. I discovered extraordinary fabrics, which I bought. Fashion is very cyclical, and these fabrics are still fabulous today.

What did you do with these fabrics?

I made clothes for my friends. When I came to António Arroio in Lisbon, and when last year we did the first show, I used fabrics from that 1950s stock.

What is the difference between the creative process now and back then, when there were no labels, no expectations and no people relying on your work? What remains of those days of greater freedom?

Some things are the same, such as taste, fascination and the show’s message. The message that is not visible, that which we want to communicate and for which we have no words, only sensations and materials. The message is the one thing that is created, but it is expressed at an unspeakable level. It is something that is created here in the studio, through the music, the materials, of a primary idea of the type of woman you want to create for that collection.

How do you transform the intangible within us into something real that can say something to the public?

This is a very quick process for me. I am very sensitive. I find it very easy to translate the fabric so that everything is said, everything is expressed. I am a bit of a fabric translator, in the sense that I translate whatever it is the fabrics are transmitting. I don’t define many things, I allow them to emerge. I see some fabric and fall in love with it, and through this fabric I connect to others that talk to it. And this is how I create, as if it were a pack of cards.

So the creative process always begins with the fabric?

Yes. Then there are things that are common: for example, I think I always have something from the 1960s and 1970s, a piece of pop rock. There are also always some divas that get caught up in this story, my story. Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve, some women from the world of cinema and music who are ever-present. I don’t know why, but they have always been a big influence on me, more than just as ideals of beauty, as a type of woman.

All your references are from the 1960s and 1970s, how do you bring these pieces of history into a contemporary creation?

Fashion is very cyclical: there is no future without the past and the present. We were able to have that vision that transports us to many different houses. We have many filters to inspire us, and it is only us here in the present that we can combine them all. The capacity for association is how new things emerge. Travelling into the past while at the same time remaining in the present. Looking at what is happening now, with the things that influence us and the big questions of the day. At this moment we cannot forget the question of women, of black people, as they are the things that are on the agenda. Those who live today have to deal with these questions. Some creatives are more interventionist than others. I am not much of an interventionist, but I am very aware. Things come to me by other means. So, I’m dealing with the problem without having put it in one of the collection’s topics. Because I am influenced a lot by everyday life, I need the street.

How can fashion be political?

It is as easy as this: we are all politicians. As people we are politicians, so what we wear is political. It is very easy for fashion to be political, since it is a messenger.

What remains of Africa in your creations?

We came to Beja because my parents thought the Alentejo most resembled Africa. They couldn’t have been more wrong. There were four of us children, and our parents kept on wanting to live as we lived in Africa. We had a big house, a big car and we made 120 km trips to the beach, which was just as it was in Africa. The doors and windows were always open in what seemed like a madhouse to the locals. We had parties every day. This was an unthinkable thing to do in a land in which the windows never opened. The way we lived, the way my mother dressed, with the same patterns that were on the curtains.

Do you have to go through that extravagant, extrovert, side to get to this place, where you work for clients, bespoke and innovative? Do you need that world to approach the classics in a way that is not boring?

Above all, it is necessary to have a bit of spice. The classics need to have the right spice. I maintain the ability to do something classic, but to deconstruct it, to take it apart and give it a modern twist, so that people don’t look as if they’ve just stepped out of a museum.

How did it feel to stop taking part in ModaLisboa and to dedicate yourself to work in the studio?

It was sad leaving ModaLisboa. That part of the show and the collection was where I gave my all creatively, because I was creating for the ideal woman, who I chose. Of course I’m now very client-focused, because when we take this path we get to better understand the market. When I stopped doing ModaLisboa, I lost a little of that freedom to do what I want. My reasons for leaving were monetary. Now we make bespoke pieces for customers, and we are very busy. That’s not to say I won’t go back to ModaLisboa, because in fact that part of the message, the show and contact with the public all make sense to me.

One of the most striking features of your shows was the shoes. What is the importance of footwear to you?

Total. For me, shoes are the cherry on the cake. Shoes define the walk, define the leg, and for me legs are the best part of the female body. I love legs.

Would you like to have your own range of shoes?

I would love it, but I would love to have a range for both men and women. I really love men’s shoes.

What would Filipe Faísca shoes be like?

They would be a little retro, but always with concern for comfort. But perhaps I would surprise myself with what I create. What we want is one thing, what we get is another, because we enter into a certain language that leads us elsewhere. I would be surprised for sure.

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