Images: Simon Eeles, Juan Manuel Del Valle
Words: Meghna Sarkar

 

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For the last month, Paula Cánovas del Vas and Ernesto Naranjo have been “running around.” The 27-year-old MA fashion graduates from Central Saint Martins are about to present their collections together at Palais De Tokyo in Paris on the 2nd of July. Why Paris? “Studying in London is amazing but you are quite restricted to who sees your work,” explains Paula. “We are taking it out of context in a completely different scenario and it’s really scary.” Paula’s collection is inspired by artists Paul Lee and Ouka Leele and features a heady mix of vibrant colours in voluminous shapes. Ernesto, on the other hand, explores his culture, community and the extremely fashionable women in his family for a theatrical spread with sculptural pieces and dramatic accessories. As the structured, oversized sleeves in Paula’s designs intrigue the viewer, so does the stylised plates incorporated into Ernesto’s garments. They are confident that a collaborative presentation of these two diverse collections would work in their favour.

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“We are both Spanish, we have the same kind of background and we do research in the same way though our women are very different,” says Ernesto. “For the collaborative project, I think our work will complement each other really well. We have a few surprises lined up to separate the two collections!” As for Paula, “The effort of putting together a show is such that when you share that with someone it gets easier,” she says. “I know I couldn’t have done it by myself, maybe I could have, but not to the level where we are expecting to take it.”

It all started with a chance meeting with Vittoria Matarrese, Head of special projects at Palais de Tokyo. The idea of a parallel presentation was floated, with a vision to democratise the fashion system, where the designs and the models or the “live sculptures”, interacted with each other and the audience. “We want to have a dialogue with the visitors,” elaborates Ernesto. “It’s not just a collection where the people are seated staring at the clothes.” What’s even more appealing is the opportunity to get the attention of a diverse crowd that doesn’t frequent fashion weeks. “It will help us to seduce an audience outside the fashion circle,” agrees Paula. “The way they would look at our work would be different.”

Other than creating a synergy between two distinctive bodies of work, the focus is on building a serious, sustainable business that can open up future opportunities. “We don’t want to sell like a 100 pieces,” says Paula. “We want to keep it very tight without compromising on the quality. The main idea is to build long-lasting relationships with the buyers.”

 

 

 

 

The last month has been a roller coaster for the two – from sending invitations to British, Spanish and French press, contacting stylists, makeup and installation artists, to planning the exhibition itself. “All of a sudden, we have become casting directors, set designers, PR professionals – we are all in one you know,” laughs Paula. But ongoing support from all quarters has kept them motivated. “We are lucky to have lots of people doing us favours and believing in our clothes,” smiles Ernesto. “We were actually surprised by how nice everyone was and how much they were willing to help.”

Such encouragement, however, doesn’t diminish the pressure of having to sell your work. “Sometimes we look at people’s career paths and there are options A, B and C. We realised we don’t fit into any of those options,” says Paula. “So the challenge was in understanding how can we survive in spite of not fitting into the generic norms. And Palais de Tokyo felt like the perfect opportunity.” So, are their collections being adapted to resemble something more commercial? Paula and Ernesto hate the ‘C’ word.

 

 

 

 

“I don’t want to lose my dramatic shapes. I hate the word ‘commercial’. For me, it’s like – ‘Okay, I have a plate, how do I make someone buy that plate?” says Ernesto. “If I am creating something, it IS commercial. Just because it can’t be worn doesn’t mean someone can’t buy it as a piece of art. I don’t want to separate creativity and commerciality because I don’t think there’s a big gap.” Paula couldn’t agree more. “I am not changing anything!” she says, nodding vigorously. “All my voluptuous sleeves are detachable so the garments can all become ‘normal’ if that’s the right word to use. Mostly, I am just working with different fabrics and adding a few accessories.”

Paula and Ernesto make it all look easy. Issues that usually concern young graduates are met with a quiet confidence by these two. As for example, differentiation. “I think, you shouldn’t try and differentiate your work from others – because it should be different naturally,” stresses Paula. Ernesto explains, “For an example, everyone is just obsessed with doing streetwear these days. But I don’t do streetwear. I don’t even own a single t-shirt in my wardrobe! I am extremely inspired by my culture and use my community as a point of reference in my work. That’s personal, that’s me and that’s what makes it unique.”

 

 

 

 

It is this individualistic approach to fashion that has discouraged both Paula and Ernesto from working full-time at major ateliers. And consciously, so. The brand names aren’t enough to make up for the creative limitations. “We love injecting our point of view into everything we do,” says Paula. And her enthusiasm finds the perfect match in Ernesto. “Being in CSM teaches you to do anything you want, it opens your mind,” he says. “You are not just a menswear or a womenswear designer. We both like styling, designing sets and a lot of other things. In a fashion house, you are restricted to doing just one thing in one department.”

That’s why the hands-on planning for Palais de Tokyo has been working out so well for these two. As for future plans: “We are two people who always need something to do,” says Ernesto. “We can’t sit idle as it makes us get anxious. We always find something that puts even more pressure on us. I don’t know how we manage to do that.” As of now, no one’s complaining.

 

 

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