Interview with Marta Marques & Paulo Almeida

Interview with Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida

Originally published in SSAW issue 3


Unified duo behind London based fashion label Marques’Almeida discuss design shaped by dialogue and the usefulness of the occasional confrontation.

How did you get into fashion and how did you two meet?

Marta: My grandmother was a seamstress. I spend a lot of time experimenting on her stand when I was young which sounds like a fashion cliché. I was originally thinking of going into graphic design as it felt like a safer option, especially in Portugal where fashion doesn’t present with many career opportunities.

Paulo: I was initially thinking whether to do fashion design or architecture. Whilst I felt more confident about studying architecture, I realised that fashion is something I would enjoy doing. I enrolled to do a course and that’s where we met.

Marta: Since the beginning, we had this connection and we started to trust a lot on each other for opinions even though we had very different aesthetics. It wasn’t about influencing each other but more about relaying on the different skillsets we have.

So after studying in Portugal, you came to London to do your Masters degree at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, what was it like applying together?

Marta: It was an insane process. When we came to London, we interned in different places for a while, I at Vivienne Westwood and Paulo at Preen but our ultimate goal was to do the MA in Central Saint Martins. Of course we had to apply separately. When it came to the interviews, Louise Wilson, the course director of the MA Fashion Design Degrees, who is notoriously provocative, obviously sensed that we knew each other; after all we were coming from the same school. So she decided to play a little game.

Paulo: I did my interview first and it went very smoothly. But when it got to Marta’s interview, Louise started asking questions like ‘ Who’s the best one’.

Marta: And ‘Who should get in?’ Everything we were hoping would not happen. Luckily we both got our applications accepted but it is funny think back to it now. 

And was it during your MA that you start to collaborate on collections?

Paulo: We were a bit clueless when we started our MA as the training in Portugal was very technical and industrially focused and in Central Saint Martins it was about developing your own aesthetics. We have always been very clear about our individual aesthetics and that’s one of the reasons we decided to do the MA course there.

Marta: And then we always hoped that there would be a point when we knew it was the right moment to work together. We just wanted to go as far as we could and hope that at one point it would feel right. Luckily it did. We only started officially working together halfway though the MA course.

What was that process like working for the very first time on the same collection?

Marta: It took us about a year to sort out what each of us was supposed to be doing and what we could rely each other on. It felt right at that point that we were going to work towards the final show because neither of us really wanted to do it individually. And in hindsight I don’t think we even could have worked individually. This way we could also get feedback from the tutors on our joined project.

Paulo: It was really intense and energy consuming and we spent a lot of time asking questions. What do we really want to do now and what do we want to do in ten years time? Who is the client we want to aim our product for? What kind of girl do we expect to be wearing our stuff?

Marta: We agreed on our ground values quite instinctively. In terns of research we respond to the same visual imagery and the same kind of aesthetics. Then we just needed to work out who is doing what and how we can use our different skill sets. 

Paulo: And when to step aside when it’s not your area of expertise.

How do you then divide the workload and play on each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Paulo: It’s really difficult to divide the roles specifically. I would say that Marta is more like the creative director and I am the design assistant but who actually designs most of the stuff. I have a lot of technical knowledge and Marta has more business mentality.  

Marta: And in terms of day-to-day running of the business, roles are easy to divide because we have a small company. We don’t have a business manager, accountant or pattern cutters so we have to take all of those roles.

Are there areas where you drastically differ in terms of your approach or aesthetics?  

Marta: Every season, there are always fights about buttons or a how long a shirts should be. But we have learned to listen to each other as well. Confrontation is good because you come up with new things through that process. Working on a dress is very intense and draining process for us. If there is a point where the other one really loves a dress and the other one really hates a dress we try to unpick the thought process behind both of our perspectives.

Paulo: And that rigorous process makes you believe more in what you are doing.

Marta: It makes you questions your design decisions even more and therefore it’s worth it. Certain dresses in our collection only exist because we fought so much on what I wanted to do to the dress and what Paulo wanted to do the a dress. The result is a hybrid and hopefully it makes the product interesting.

Your work has a very clear vision and consistency – who do you manage this? And can you see your own personal aesthetics in what you are doing now?

Marta: It’s the junction of our two different points of view that makes our label unique. We have some key imagery every season that we are obsessed with and things like who the girl is and what she is doing and how cool or effortless she feels – we respond to that in the same way. When we started researching old editions of i-D or Face magazines and the streetwear pictures they had, we said a lot of times that there is a code to this look that is interesting in terms of dressing and fabrics. Black leather jacket, t-shirt and jeans is a powerful combination. From there we get the shape of the T-Shirt that we do every season for example. 

Paulo: We are designing for our generation with the same 90's reference points that we have. For us, design is about the girl wearing your garments. Clothes are not meant to be on a mannequin or on a hanger but to be worn by a girl with a brain. A good example of the collision of our styles would be the shoes from our Spring summer 2013 collection. Marta would probably go for something which had a really chunky sole and I on the other hand would probably go for the really thin strappy sandal, so when we join both of them, that makes our design special.

Marta: Our individual take on design is something that only the two of us can see. And we do play a game after the shows: that’s your outfit and that’s my outfit.

Paulo: The full white or grey looks are always probably mine, and something that I would have felt strongly about. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been Marta designing the pieces or the shapes.

Textiles are a big part of your work – could you talk a little bit about this.

Paulo: It has a lot to do with the codes that some fabrics have. If it’s silk, it’s because we want to explore an evening approach. If it’s denim, it is because it has so much symbolic weight behind it.

Marta: Denim is young and has that street rawness. You see everyone in denim, everyone has a pair of jeans and it means so much in terms of youth culture. We have been cautious about introducing new fabrics because we didn’t want to loose that rawness we have achieved with denim in our first collections. It has been fun to experiment with different materials and to see how we can make them feel the same way and to make them part of our aesthetics, the girl and the identity.

I’m sure it’s quite intense working together, how do you separate the business from the personal?

Marta: We have been together as a couple for 8 years. We now have a studio but we used to live and work in the same space when we first started the brand so there was no separation between work and personal life. In the beginning we were going slightly crazy for not having a studio and we were working all the time. But then again, we still are.

Paulo: Especially when you are starting up and you feel so passionate about what you do and we feel like this is our future. It doesn’t matter to us if it is midnight or 3 in the morning because we really love what we are doing. We work with people who we enjoy working with and they are either friends or end up becoming our friends. It makes sense to us that when we want to do a cool young brand that it needs to be done in a relaxed and informal way.

And what about the future?

Paulo: Obviously we want to grow and turn this into a prober business. But this also scares me because what we do, is really personal and we want to keep it that way. Sustainability is important to us.

 Marta: One of the things we really want to happen is that the brand can exist by itself and that the name of the brand will mean something. We are looking forward to growing as a business to enable us to do more. At the moment there is just the two of us and our assistant and there is a lot of things we don’t get to do because of this. But we don’t want to be a big mainstream brand. We don’t want to loose that personal side of things which is important to us. We like having a relationship with our clients and every piece we but out there.