Stars of the North

We posed open questions to three skilled and creative fashion designers based in northern Portugal, to see what would happen.

Words: Patrícia Barnabé
Photos: Frederico Martins for Portugal Fashion’s Campaign

  1. Were you born into fashion or was it a discovery?
  2. If you had to choose one sense or body part that inspires you, what would it be?
  3. How would you like people who wear your clothes to feel?
  4. What sets you apart in the fashion you design?
  5. How do you define innovation in your work?
  6. If your studio caught fire, which articles/collections would you escape from the fire with?
  7. What does fashion add to the world, apart from covering our bodies?
  8. In a world that is increasingly free and without conventions, what are yours? What values or principles guide you?
  9. If you were a thing, a shape, an object, what would you like to be?
  10. What definition of happiness do you aspire to for the future?
  11. What does Porto have (that other cities can’t even dream about)?

David Catálan

He was born in Spain in 1980 and he studied interior design, but finished his studies here. He graduated in fashion and clothing design from Matosinhos College of Art and Design, settled in Porto and now shows his work in Portugal Fashion. Inspired by his daily life, he created his brand of men’s fashion geared towards youth culture and lifestyle. He contrasts more classic shapes with others that are outside the box, with oversized streetwear or unusual accessories, and alternates sober tones with explosions of colour. Distinctive items with an eye for detail are the result.

1. I think I always knew I wanted to follow the world of fashion. At one point I even considered a more traditional career, namely architecture, but I only found fulfilment in what I was doing when I chose fashion, and Porto was the place that allowed me to make it a reality.

2. Sight. As I have a degree of colour-blindness, I end up having a different view of things and that, to a certain extent, inspires me.

3. Above all, I want them to feel good, comfortable and confident, because that was the identity I built for the brand.

4. I’m an extremely demanding person, both with myself and with the people who work with me. I think that 110% commitment in everything I set out to do is definitely a factor that sets me apart.

5. I see innovation in my work by giving the classics new meaning, always trying to use current and relevant references in today’s fashion scene, whether details, silhouettes or materials.

6. First of all, I hope that never happens because I practically live in my studio! But choosing one article or collection is, honestly, impossible. I think I’d grab my computer, considering that everything related to the brand is inside it, and my dogs.

7. Fashion is the simplest way for us to communicate anything. It is an extremely powerful non-verbal language; for example, historically it has been the identifier and catalyst for various social movements.

8. As I said before, the demand for excellence is definitely a big principle of mine. Another, I would say, is family, my friends, my dogs; all these relationships inspire and motivate me.

9. If I were anything, it would be a circle. Everything in my life is cyclical. Collection in, collection out, clown in, clown out, one door closes and 10 windows open. It’s all a matter of learning how to make the best of those cycles.

10. Professionally, I aim to grow with the brand and make my living from it 100%. Personally, I simply want to surround myself with the people I enjoy working with, friends and family.

11. Porto is an amazing city, full of life. But the first thing that comes to mind when I think of something I have here that other places only dream about is my illustrious presence.

Susana Bettencourt

She has her heart set in the Azores and its traditional bobbin lace. She studied Fashion Design Knitwear at Central Saint Martins and did her MA in Digital Fashion at the London College of Fashion. She combines digital techniques with her love of handwork and has been producing knitwear since 2011, from the thread to the garment. She showed her first collection at London Fashion Week’s Exhibition, and also has shows at Portugal Fashion and participates in international fairs such as Tranoi and White Milano. She is known for strong patterns, graphic contrasts and extravagant handmade pieces, and all of her production is made in Portugal.

1. I gradually discovered it. I spent the three summer months in the Azores and since I was five years old, I have been learning to crochet and knit, and, more recently, I have learned from my aunt Mariazinha the more complex techniques of Azorean handicraft, crochet and laces, such as bobbin and bioleira lace. Only much later, because I was in Sciences, which made me very unhappy, I switched to arts and I transformed clothes and cut off trouser legs. Then I got a scholarship and went to London to study knitwear.

2. The mind. I am fascinated by psychology, and a lot of my inspirations are abstract, about things going on in the world, like anxiety and depression. Before I start drawing, I always make an image with collages and drawings, where I transform abstract themes into something tangible and figurative. I can’t use a single approach because I have too many ideas, so I approach the theme over three or four collections.

3. Above all, I want them to feel happy and good about themselves. Our garments are extravagant, so the idea is that with just one garment the look is complete.

4. My knitwear. From the contrasts of buildings to their roofs, I look at things and turn them into knitwear.

5. As I work on the collection, on technique and surface manipulation, knitting machines are getting better and better, they’re monstrous, you can make a whole garment in one machine!

6. I would take the first collection, for my Master’s degree, because I did everything in it myself, by my own hand, and it was there that I expressed myself for the first time. And I’d take the last one because it would be easier to sell. Half of the decision would be driven by the heart and the other half by logic.

7. Above all, fashion, us in Portugal and me in knitwear, pulling more and more on this limbo between technology and craftsmanship, taking the memory of our techniques and the milestone of technological evolution. For me, fashion is memory.

8. The respect for others and the search for the joy of living. I always do things while worrying that the team is well, that’s the only way you can be creative. I always have four or five interns, they even come from other countries. I’ve created an academy spirit. And I have the agony of recording techniques. I did a PhD with the purpose of giving my contribution to the world of knitwear, which accounts for 65% to 75% of our exports. Recording and teaching are my great convictions.

9. A blanket. Because it is cosy, it has that connotation of the end of the day, the joy of a mission accomplished, it provides cosiness and gives love. And I really like to hug.

10. My professional happiness is very much linked to passing on my testimony and techniques, the love of art and fashion. The days when I come home with a full heart are when I am able to pass something on, teach the next generations, or see an English woman making Azorean bobbin lace, for example.

11. I’m Azorean, my whole family is in the Azores, and my childhood friends. I have to go there every two months or else my heart starts to squeeze tight with longing. I built my being and my personality on the memories of the Azores. I was in Lisbon and London for 10 years, but for me the north is mainly the people, the community and sharing, people are closer to an idea of family and community, they spend time together, have dinner at each other’s houses, they are not alone. I also chose Porto because in Lisbon there are no knitwear manufacturers. I lived in Maia and Famalicão and now I have bought a house in Guimarães, where I have my store.

Estelita Mendonça

Born in Porto in 1987, he studied at the fashion academy in his city and has been presenting collections at Portugal Fashion since 2010. He has also been at Matadero in Madrid, MQ Vienna Fashion week, London Collections Showroom, Alta Roma, Pitti Uomo in Florence, and has received several national and international awards. He began by collaborating on films, Portuguese brands and did styling for Farfetch e-commerce.

He has been designing men’s fashion for more than 10 years, and has renewed, deconstructed and re-built the boys’ wardrobe. He christened it with his last two surnames.

1. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a special care for what I wear and a fascination with the texture and colour of the materials from which the articles of clothing were constructed. Then I began studying, researching and the next thing I knew I was working in several departments in the area of fashion, from make-up to styling, and I realised that I had to study design because the need to create was always present.

2. I honestly think fashion touches every sense, it’s a multidisciplinary art. The most direct answer would be sight, for obvious reasons, but hearing, touch and smell are intrinsically linked to building a collection. Ultimately we try to create sensations and emotions, and those are built by all the senses.

3. I want my customers to feel that the article communicates with them and those around them. I hope it will be a conversation enhancer.

4. I think that each designer brand, where design is worked on with respect, is unique, because it has its own point of view. Mine is no exception, it’s my point of view on the themes I work on. The brand has an up cycling component that is intertwined with the social commentary that I always try to keep in mind in my work. I construct my themes in an analytical but quite personal way. I don’t know if that makes my brand special, but I think it makes it unique, and that’s what we want from a designer brand.

5. Our idea of innovation comes from the concept and our way of working with it. Of course we are interested in new materials and new ways of doing things, technology is something we pay attention to, but for us innovation is not only the use of an innovative material, it’s thinking about an idea or concept in a new and different way. As the brand is our point of view on various subjects, and the points of view are anchored in time, modernity or actuality is always present.

6. Nothing. Fashion is about doing something new, better and different. What has already been done is already done and has its place in time. Of course, this is our theory; in reality I would try to bring the whole collection. It’s all or nothing.

7. Fashion is, first and foremost, an art form that clearly has a commercial aspect. Like all art forms, it has a function of representing contemporary society and when it is done well it comments on it, helping it to improve and evolve. It may be an idyllic view of fashion, but we saw this happening in the 80s and 90s. Hopefully we can see it again.

8. It’s very funny that this question starts with a premise I totally disagree with. If that were the case, we would not continue to fight on issues such as human rights, gender identity, the right to free speech, territorial rights, racism, xenophobia, etc. We would not have seen the election of a Trump in the United States or a Bolsonaro in Brazil. Unfortunately, these realities exist and they all start from the lack of a value that for us is basic: RESPECT. Respect for others, for ourselves, for the place each of us occupies in the world, for our work and for the work of others.

9. The first thing that comes to mind is water. First, because it is one of the main elements of life, then because of transparency and mystery; this duality interests me a lot.

10. A freshly-squeezed natural fruit juice, on a beach paradise with the best possible company and listening to good music. This is my definition of happiness.

11. Porto is an ultra-creative city, with a very specific vibe. Only those who work in the city have this notion.

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