Fashion’s brightest duo talk industry hype, meritocracy, PSG Store and the eternal thrill of seeing a stranger on the bus outfitted in their signature ‘raw edge’.
Sitting down to chat with Marques'Almeida's Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida is akin to catching up with your oldest, most cherished friend. The Portuguese-born and London based duo, famed for changing the denim game, are a strictly 'no-fuss' pair who are refreshingly warm and candid when quizzed on the realities of the fashion industry and the future of their evolving brand.
Since graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2011, Marques'Almeida have had the utopian brand trajectory that every fashion student dreams of:
Debut collection picked up by major department store? √
Feverish international media and celebrity endorsements? √
Sold out Topshop collaboration? √
LVMH prize winners? √
But the pair aren't in it for the accolades and hype, sure it's incredible that there has been such an adoring global reception for the brand but Marta and Paulo can mostly be found working 24/7 in their Dalston studio, oblivious to the fanfare and paparazzi pictures of Rihanna and Justin Bieber outfitted in full MA looks.
On a whirlwind trip to Australia, i-D caught up with the pair in the plush new incarnation of cult Melbourne emporium, PSG Store, after a special one night only presentation of their resort collection, starring some of the label's most devoted 'Marques'Almeida girls'.
Marta and Paulo shoot the Folk collective models ahead of the Marques Almeida presentation at Pet Shop Girls.
2015 has been a year of expansion for Marques'Almeida, how have you found the transition from just the two of you to having a fully fledged team?
Marta: The label has become something quite different and has turned into its own thing now. It's obviously dependent on us but it's a different beast to when we started four years ago. Back then it was us and one or two others working really, really close as a team, discussing our collection ideas around a table but now there's a team of eleven and a media schedule, a business manager, formal processes and so on.
Congratulations on winning the LVMH Prize, it was a very competitive year. I'm interested in what happens in the months after you win and specifically how 'hands on' the mentoring is?
Marta: Thank you. Yes, winning was quite surreal and the mentoring is actually quite hands on. Sophie (from LVMH) comes to London very often to visit the studio and see everyone and ask what we're going through and if we need any advice. It's nice to know that if we are stuck we can shoot off an email to someone with an incredible amount of experience.
How do you feel about this 'creative and human burnout' issue that's at the centre of fashion industry talk right now?
Marta: The demand has certainly become a faster and faster pace…
Paulo: There's also a lot of pressure for the bigger brands to do a show almost like couture when it's supposed to be prêt-à-porter. So they're in the situation of doing a show collection, a commercial collection, a big collection...and there's the source of the burnout. There's not a single piece in our shows that is not designed with the purpose of someone wearing it.
Marta: The only thing that worries me about the pace is that it loses the essence of things. As beautiful as the shows are, for us it's about the girl wearing it in the end and if that's lost, then I think that's concerning.
Marques Almeida x PSG Resort 2016 Runway
Do you still get a thrill when you see someone wearing Marques'Almeida?
Paulo: It's the most rewarding thing. A lot of journalists keep asking us, "oh so which celebrity would you like to dress?" and we really don't care about the celebrities. We much prefer getting on the bus and seeing someone wearing something of ours.
Marta: Shows are fun to do and it's quite an interesting process of putting your image out there and deciding what you're trying to say, but then seeing it on the street is much more emotional. I think it's why we keep doing these things where we come to meet the retailers and the customers, it's just that cycle because it's about the girls and about the attitude. We don't work in a vacuum, it's not about this crazy fashion concept it's about the girls. So doing this is what feeds us.
Do you feel that there is a common trait amongst the 'Marques'Almeida girls'?
Marta: We came up with some sort of expression a while ago about them all being 'quietly defiant girls' and I think that makes sense because we never want to make it in your face, but I think there's some sort of defiance to be able to wear it.
Banoffee performs live at the Marques Almeida x PSG Resort Runway
One of your hallmarks is the 'raw edge'. Is this going to remain a MA fixture or do you feel it will retire at some point?
Paulo: It has certainly become a signature thing for us, not that we have to do it for the rest of our lives but I think it's quite nice when you see these pieces with continuity. It's similar to say Margiela, where you have the four stitches at the back, for us it's the frayed edges as a way of recognising the brand.
You're famed for your use of denim, do you have strong referencing points to denim historically?
Marta: It's not really about brands specifically, like we love Lee and vintage stuff but it's more to do with vibe of it.
Paulo: The way we started with denim was all about the research and the obsession with the kind of girl that we were trying to portray and speak to. At Central Saint Martins we were so obsessed with making sure that what we were creating and saying was relevant and authentic. We were comparing all the brands in the market back then and we felt that it was saturated with digital prints and cocktail dresses, or as Louise Wilson would say, "shoulder to knee decorations"(laughs). We got really obsessed with old editorials from The Face and i-D and Purple Magazine of actual street style.
Marta: Yes the straight-ups of real girls standing outside clubs and stores. We had so many photocopies of those pages from i-D and they were all wearing jeans.
Paulo: It was really cool to see editorials that were like, 'jacket from Prada, socks from Issey and then jeans stylists own' because it would be something vintage. That stylist's piece was really special to create the whole vibe of that look and it wasn't about just doing an editorial that was all advertisements.
Marques Almeida x PSG Resort 2016 Presentation
I'm not sure if you've been asked this of late but there's a lot of young designers now moving to the major houses. Are we gonna see you guys at Balenciaga next year?
Marta: (Laughs) I think we might skip that, well actually we've never been approached. I know you have the guys at Vetements right now making the move and they're very, very young but we feel like such babies.
Paulo: I'm really happy where we are now and just making the best possible way for our own brand.
Is this a typical things for you guys to do, to come overseas and visit a retailer and your customers?
Marta: We've done it a few times which is nice. With PSG Store it's a bit more special because we've known each other for so long by email. They were one of our first stockists, like our third season or something. It was quite funny because we had a lot of Australian girls following us on Instagram sending us emails saying "I want it I want it I want it"...
Paulo: And then we thought why not just approach a store there, but because it's so hard to know where the best fit is, being so far away in London, we asked the girls emailing which stores they thought best suited the brand and they said PSG Store.
Marta: And then by that point Sheena and Chiara (of PSG) had contacted us. The PSG team are incredibly crazy about the clothes which I think helps (laughs). They're really onto something and changing the way we think about our customers, it's so much more personal. When you talk about the fast paced nature of fashion, this sort of brings you back to why we started the label in the first place.