For many years it was an almost forgotten craft, with little appeal for the younger generation. But interest in the course has gradually emerged among young people, leading the Porto Fashion School to invest in a Miguel Flor started out as a fashion designer. Today he is a creative director and photographer, the boldness behind the magazine Prinçipal, discovers new fashion talents and launches his first book Boys Appetite.
Words: Patrícia Barnabé
Some people have no time, no date; fed by an insatiable curiosity and creativity, they are eternally young. That’s Miguel Flor, a key figure in Portuguese fashion born in the north, always on the lookout for new and exciting things, but rarely found when its time to take the photos and drink champagne. He was born in Trás-os-Montes, in the town where he got his petit nom Flor, to very free-spirited parents who always let him be who he wanted to be. He grew up with pop images from Bravo magazine and cassettes on which he recorded radio playlists. He studied design at Porto’s Academia de Moda, his “bibles” were the magazines i-D and The Face and he shared a house with other creatives, which he says was a good step along the road to the exchanges he loves so much.
In 1996, Miguel Flor won first prize at the ModaLisboa New Blood competition. And by the end of 1999 he was off to Paris to work at Maison Margiela, a reference for all the fashion brains of his generation. When he returned to Portugal he created his own fashion label. Then he started designing for other brands, such as the beautiful Vicri, and he began teaching at the Porto Fashion School and the Faculty of Architecture at Lisbon’s Technical University. His desire has always been to hybridise people, ideas and aesthetics, the established and the young. A good part of his coolness comes from the fact that he never loses sight of the new generations, even at the time when this generated mistrust, even now that it is fashionable to do so – and he is naturally followed by them. In 2010 he created the Bloom platform for young designers at Portugal Fashion and is a jury member for ModaLisboa’s New Blood. He once told us in an interview: “In my work I have a lot of this fountain of youth thing, it’s a way of keeping myself fed, a basis for creativity. I’m always keeping my eyes open to everything that’s being generated and I go to people, without much fear, to commission work from them. I like to have no boundaries.” He has helped launch photographers such as José Pedro Cortes, Rui Palma and Moura Simão, as well as picking up work outside the box by acclaimed designers from the more arty side of the fashion world, such as Rui Aguiar, Inês Gonçalves and Pedro Cláudio.
He started photography as a self-taught photographer, his family always took lots of photographs, and when he started making clothes he wanted to document them with Polaroids. As modelling agencies at the time didn’t have boys with the thinness and androgyny that made sense for his clothes, Miguel Flor did street castings and then photographed the kids in his studio or even had them parade, as happened with the Guedes twins, who later became professional and well-known. This was the genesis of what became his first book of photography, Boys Appetite, published by Stolen Books and which, as he says himself, is “body and fashion.” He has photographed backstage at fashion shows, but he photographs spontaneously everywhere: in the street, on holiday, when clubbing. His work has a little of the raw aesthetics of German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, who is of his generation, also gay and very rooted in an idea of community. He is Miguel Flor’s main reference, whom he considers “the photographer of our era”, as well as Hedi Slimane, photographer, gay, former creative director of Saint Laurent, now at the head of Celine. Miguel went to Berlin for a holiday and began Boys Appetite with boys whom he spontaneously photographed in the street. The name was born when he saw “appetite” written on a post.
“A large percentage of the photographs in Boys Appetite are taken of people I don’t know. I see a part of the body, an attitude, etc. and I make an image of that moment, a moment there that I don’t want to lose,” he says. But there is also something of contemplation and unconsummated desire. “The idea of capturing people and not showing their identity is a counterpoint to my own work as a fashion photographer. In fashion, you sell one product or several, the clothes, the model and the lifestyle”, here “I don’t want to sell anything, except that sensation, that appetite, that perfume.” This project has already won a residency at the Walk & Talk festival in the Azores, where Miguel scattered beautiful posters of boys’ necks and torsos around the streets of Ponta Delgada. It was a way of giving back to the street what it took from him. He did it again in unusual places in Lisbon, even more noticeable in an empty capital during the pandemic. This project, which seems to have no end in sight, and just as well, also earned him an exhibition in Porto at the Sputkik gallery. No matter how much a man of the world he is, Miguel always returns to his northern capital, his home and departure point.
Miguel Flor still has the will to make clothes, although the industry never understood him; he was too far ahead. But maybe he’ll launch a collection one of these days. We’d like that a lot. For now, he is the backbone of Prinçipal – Moda Portugal, a bilingual fashion magazine supported by the Porto-based Cenit, Centre for Textile Intelligence, which gives him complete freedom to exercise his curatorial and creative director skills and where he publishes his most experimental photography. There, his fashion editorials maintain all the spontaneity and future that he values so much. “They often ask me: ‘Is this the language of industrialists?’ No, but if Prinçipal has the very clear objective of promoting national fashion, you have to promote it in an international showcase.” And, he adds, “a magazine is very different from a Google search, it’s an object with a beginning, middle and end, it’s a space, a container that you go through and understand in another way. I really like that, exploring the depths of things.”
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