Creating characters, and a world for them to act in, that was Ernesto Naranjo‘s plan for his MA collection. Combining his love for his heritage with contemporary and abstract influences, his mature and simplistic approach left us with a playful collection of sculptured block colours, undulating shapes, tasseled headpieces and the ultimate line up of his very own female heroines.

Ernesto initially comes across as quiet and thoughtful. However, his humble and mature head does not dampen his ambition and drive, but instead makes him see reality and how he can find his place at the fashion table. Ernesto sat down with me to talk about his time in London his roots and inspirations, what really makes him different and fighting for his dreams post CSM.

His love for his Spanish heritage and the women in his family is not something Ernesto shies away from, and it’s clear they have both had a huge influence on his designs. It is also the first thing he brings up “I come from a really small town in the south of Spain called Seville. My whole family lives there, we’re very close, and I always wanted to create work that relates to me personally or my family.” The women in particular seemed important to Ernesto. “They have huge eccentric personalities and an incredible sense of style. My grandmother is in a wheelchair but still wears so much jewellery, has purple hair and dresses up every day. I love that.”  

It’s easy to see Ernesto’s love for shape and structure when looking at the obscure forms that hang off each look in his collection. It comes as no surprise that his first love was architecture. “I always wanted to be an architect. My father is a workman so I grew up around construction. However, I realised I just loved the beauty of the buildings.” Growing up going shopping and dressing up with his mum and grandmother, it felt like a natural choice to study fashion instead. “I did always love clothes, but I never knew this profession existed. An acquaintance had done short courses at CSM so I came during summer, loved it and applied!”

The concept of Ernesto’s MA collection was to curate a world of characters, all with different personalities and stories. “My starting point was to create a character that carried all her precious belongings with her.” Each look would be a different character and woman. “In Spain,” he explains, “there is a tradition where you pass down your heirlooms to the next generation.” So naturally, his research started at home. He started by collecting possessions from his grandmother and creating sculptures from them. “I imagined what a painting would look like if this woman were to create her life on a canvas using these possessions. I quickly found that my ideas were going to be too heavy to put directly on the body. This was my biggest challenge, finding the right process to allow me to create the shapes I wanted.”

It is typically Spanish to dress up and combine everything in one outfit; think ‘more is more’. Despite this immersion into Spanish style and aesthetics, Ernesto wanted to reïnvent this idea: “I wanted to make the collection feel modern. Taking inspiration from very personal parts of my heritage, my grandmother, meant I could keep a personal touch but without creating a cliché.”

Ernesto still had to transform a conceptual vision into a reality. Experimenting with tonnes of different fabrics and techniques was the only way he could move his design process forward. “I don’t really like the word wearable, as for my MA show I wanted it to be more conceptual, but I still wanted to have pieces that people could put on the body. I also didn’t want the objects to be obviously a cup or a plate, so I needed to find ways to make those shapes more subtle and abstract.”

Ernesto explains that his process has always been structured. He even drops in that he has never done an all-nighter. Something quite unheard of for most design students; but perhaps it’s this structured process and clear direction that casts him aside from his peers, his lack of franticness? “I am very methodical but also work very authentically. I start with a solid idea and let that take me wherever. I am not stuck in my ways, I am open to my process guiding me, and I think that always makes the final outcome even better than what I first imagined. The characters I was creating allowed for this freedom of thought, I wanted each look to have elements or randomness and surprise.”

For most designers, the MA is a time of growth and personal exploration, a moment to find their place in the real world. Ernesto explains how this year really changed his perspective of what it means to create a successful business. “I learned a lot about the industry this year. My friend Paula and I did a collaboration project for a Hong Kong-based brand called PHVLO. We went there to see the buyers and factories, and it was a great learning curve to see how the industry really works. Paula and I also won the travel bursary and traveled to Japan where we were taught traditional techniques and skills. It really opened my eyes to different ways of working.” A reality check, but also an incentive to start thinking about his own business model: “I want to make things people want to buy and wear, that’s the reality. I would like to continue creating my own work and to do that I need to support myself.”

Ernesto’s hopes and dreams for a future in fashion are grounded and mature, he sees his place in the industry realistically and is already making plans on what to do post CSM MA; “I am open at the moment to any opportunity, but I would like to continue to create my own work.I would like to move to Paris first. My reference points like I have said have always been my mum and grandmother; women that are more assured of themselves so I think my authentic suits Paris nicely.”

Talking candidly about what the current state of the fashion industry, Ernesto explains, “There is a lot of support for young talent in London but not really for the business side of things. They are very good at hyping up young designers but are not helping them create something with longevity. It takes time to develop a strong brand and we need to learn how to market ourselves, how to approach press and how to go about getting funding. There needs to be more information and transparency so students don’t leave with unrealistic expectations.” Not taking his opportunities for granted, Ernesto’s humble approach to fashion is quite possibly what will make him so different. “I don’t want to lose my family, my heritage, or my moral compass in the name of fashion. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan, all hype and no substance.”

Seven crazy years since starting his CSM journey Ernesto recalls fondly some moments he will never forget. “I will always remember my first time at CSM doing the Fashion Folio course. This is where I learned that fashion design existed in a creative form; it does not need to be commercial. I remember one day they lined us up and said ‒ ‘You look like a banker, you look like a journalist, you look like a shop assistant.’ From that day I realised I had to push myself to be part of this; to be in this world.”

Finishing with some advice he continues: “Be obsessive about your art, you have to be obsessive, but also have fun with it. You have to be prepared to work hard and push yourself but you can’t forget to enjoy the ride, it goes so quickly. Oh and be nice to people, we work hard but don’t take yourself too seriously as it is only clothes.”

Words Naomi Barling