House of Portuguese Fashion

Words: Patrícia Barnabé
Photo: WOW

The Fashion and Textiles Museum opened in Vila Nova de Gaia, dedicated to the best items made in Portugal, footwear and filigree included.

It was in the 1980s that Englishman Adrian Bridge was bowled over by port. A decade later he left banking to manage Taylor’s and Fonseca Port, first in his own country and the United States and then in Porto, and he also bought Croft and Delaforce. He rethought the brands, received awards and opened The Yeatman hotel in 2010, based on the wine culture. World of Wine came about because Bridge wanted to give tourists discovering Porto reasons to stay longer in the northern capital. So he imagined a block of six museums: the main one dedicated to wine, hence the name, but also a museum about the history of Porto and the north of the country, a museum about cork, another for chocolate, because it combines so well with port and has a Portuguese colonial tradition, one dedicated to housing his private collection of glasses, which he called the “brit collection”, and the Fashion and Textile Museum.

The Fashion and Textile Museum, managed by Catarina Jorge, who had worked with Bridge in the hotel industry, aims to “show that we know how to produce with quality,” says the director. It opened this spring, in the middle of the pandemic. The director chose Studio Astolfio to fill the Vítor Miranda architecture. Studio Astolfio conceived the contents and exhibition route for “a collection made up of objects and design” in a space that is “transversal and not very imposing, where people feel comfortable.” Joana Astolfi is known for her attention to detail and ingenious imagination, visible in José Avillez’s restaurants or in the Hermès shop windows she designed. However, this was a very demanding project, even for an architect used to making things happen. She started designing the space without contents, painted the walls a timeless, hybrid French grey and a deep, dark blue hägge. She created special rooms to make the space more flexible, and 30 to 40 articles were custom designed, “millimetric work” as she describes it.

Studio Astolfi designed the entrance lobby and lighting, and curated the objects on the ground floor, where the museum circuit begins, in an area dedicated to the textile industry, its raw materials and processes, illuminating the highlights of its history since the 16th century. “We tried to bring the factory into the museum in an appealing way,” she says, and her studio designed displays, shelves, drawers and tables to discover, like the cabinets of curiosities that she filled with objects brought from the textile factories she visited and from antique shops, such as old machines, boxes with drawings and illustrations, books with textile samples, colour and yarn displays. Joana also obtained archive photographs. She hand-pasted them one by one into 100 albums of various formats, then captioned them. Those albums are now laid out for viewing. She also pays homage to the work carried out in the workshops, through six wooden boxes that celebrate each stage of the process “designed like garages that open up like a factory box.” Analogue and digital are combined “so that everything might have rhythm and, as well as being educational, it might be an exciting and fun exhibition of surprise and discovery.”

The second floor contains footwear and filigree, which merit a special place next to fashion due to their importance in the Portuguese art of making things well. “Footwear is very important for the Portuguese economy and the factories are almost all in the north of the country,” Catarina Jorge stresses. “And there’s filigree, due to its cultural importance.” The women’s footwear industry is represented by the acclaimed shoemaker Luís Onofre, who now runs APICCAPS, the Portuguese Footwear Industry Association, and men’s footwear by Carlos Santos. Besides the display cases of materials used in the construction of shoes, there is an area paying tribute to shoemakers, with a recreated workshop “as if the shoemaker had just got up; we see the forms, tools, table and a television where we can watch the shoes being made.” New generations and materials are also a focal point, and their magic and diversity is celebrated in 50 illustrations depicting all kinds of shoes from around the world, signed by Henriette Arcelin.

Portuguese fashion design, its history and players are also on the second floor. Luís Pereira, currently director of casting at ModaLisboa and founder of the fashion communication agency Showpress, was in charge of the curatorship. There were also some insights from Mário Matos Ribeiro, director of the Fashion Design course at the Faculty of Architecture of Lisbon, and assistance from Marta Lemos. They made a list of key national fashion designers from different generations and then went to their studios to “find out what they’ve kept in storage; some of them showed us their items via Zoom because of the pandemic, and we chose four looks from each to exhibit, store and then swap.” Those who are no longer working obtained items “through their clients.” The museum has articles by Manuela Gonçalves, Ana Salazar, José António Tenente, Miguel Flor, Alexandra Moura, Luís Buchinho, Filipe Faísca, Maria Gambina, Nuno Baltazar, Diogo Miranda, Ricardo Preto, and duos like Abbondanza/Matos Ribeiro and Storytailors, Paulo Cássio/ Júlio Torcato, João Tomé/Francisco Pontes. Some parade on a long catwalk “linking the past to the present,” while others are on reduced-scale mannequins and their accessories nestle in a cabinet of curiosities, where you can find glasses, wallets, shoes and “playful pieces” by designers such as Valentim Quaresma and Olga Noronha. The more experimental designers, like Alves/Gonçalves, Lidija Kolovrat or the Marques Almeida duo, are on a rotating podium, and new talents are also represented. With luck, and in addition to the collection, maybe Portuguese brands will get a shop in the museum. “We want to support designers and communicate what’s new,” the museum’s director assures us. Tickets cost 15 euros. They can be bought at and, at the weekend, you can visit the museum until dinner time and then eat there, overlooking the Douro.

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