After playing Zorro, Puss in Boots, enjoying a lifelong collaboration with Pedro Almodovar, acting in more than 90 movies and directing and producing his own, Spanish actor and Hollywood darling Antonio Banderas has now become…. a Central Saint Martins menswear student! Yes, the rumour we’ve all been hoping to be true was confirmed when last week Antonio posted a picture of himself in the studios of CSM. In this exclusive interview, CSM fashion students sit down with the man behind the mask in the menswear studios of Granary Square to talk about his new student life, the parallels between filmmaking and fashion design, and how his homework is going.
“I feel like a little kid with new shoes”
AB: So what do you wanna know guys? What the heck am I doing here, right?!
1G: Yeah, exactly!
AB: What am I doing here…? Knowledge. I’m here to gain knowledge, basically. Let’s start from the beginning. Nineteen years ago, I started working with the perfume company Puig in Spain. In the beginning they proposed I do a perfume collection but I suggested something different. I said: “Okay, let’s take a risk. I am not going to do a commercial, take the money and go home. I would like to create my own little company, and I’ll work with you. I will not only be an image and a name – I will work hard for you.” At the beginning they were surprised but they finally accepted it. We started working and after 19 years we now sell in 93 countries.
First of all, I wanted to find a way to do what I call ethical business. I’ve been working with a number of institutions, some big institutions like Unicef, as well as some private ones. From the beginning of my collaboration with Puig we’ve given something back to the places where we presented our perfumes. We’ve worked with Broadway Cares in New York, Unicef in Chile, the Garrahan Hospital in Argentina, Make-A-Wish, associations and programmes in Rio de Janeiro, a Spanish foundation that offers scholarships to kids – stuff like that.
I also got to a point where I’ve done 92 movies – I am not going to stop – I’m going to continue doing movies and producing, and I want to direct more – but there were other things in my life that I was interested in.
The world of perfume is very close to fashion: at Puig we have many people that are in the fashion world, and for them perfumes are an accessory. My team there realised that I didn’t just like going around to promote the perfume, so they started exploring other aspects of me that were not public, like photography – I love photography too. They gave me the opportunity to get in the studio with clothes and models. And I did two expositions, and I started smelling closer and closer the importance of what we wear, of colour, the importance of shapes to send a message, to say something. Last year my personal life took a turn, and I decided to take some steps ahead. As something that had been cooking in my brain for a while, I decided to put a company together called Antonio Banderas Designs, which encompasses the perfumes that have been there for 19 years, but I also jumped into the world of glasses.
“It was difficult to get into Central Saint Martins”
What I do is licensing of my name, but for me it is very important that it is the name, the image and work. Because I work a lot. I travel a lot: I spend five days in Argentina, five days in Brazil, I go to every charitable programme Puig supports. Because what people need most of all, what I need too as a consumer, is credibility. An actor or a celebrity in a world that is not his natural world produces a distance at the beginning. Yeah, your fans are going to be excited, but it’s something that burns very fast unless you…
1G: …feed it with something?
AB: Exactly. If there is no foundation you’re not going to last, because people can smell it, but also because you actually don’t have the resources or talent. I have been approached by a big company in Denmark called Bestseller. We’re going to launch a first collection next fall that has already been selected. I participated in the selection of thirty items, and it goes in three different directions. It is all for the same contemporary man, but it encapsulates three aspects of this man.
1G: So it’s menswear?
AB: Yes, menswear! The first is just loose, jeans with lower pockets in the back, t-shirts… Something very, very comfortable. Then there is one that is a little bit more sophisticated: blazers, scarves, coats for the winter. And then we have another section which is basically proper suits. In this first collection I participated, but not fully. I sat down with the designers – they’re my friends now – and we put a lot of things on the table, and managed to get a collection that just makes sense to me. It is not haute couture: we are going to a mass market. It is very much in the line of what Inditex is doing in Spain.
But the final goal for me was to do it from the inside out. There was no other way. Otherwise I cannot look at myself in the mirror. So what is the best way? To try to get into the best schools. And this one came first. I had no idea if I was going to get the opportunity, if they had programmes for people like me or not. I fought for it.
1G: Was it difficult?
AB: It was difficult…
1G: Yeah I can imagine… We never even knew this existed! It didn’t, probably.
“There is one garment that I love that was lost in menswear a long time ago, and I would like to experiment with it: the cape”
AB: They believed what I was pursuing was real. And it is. I have no worry about the degree, if I’m going to get a piece of paper that says I’m a designer. But I would like to be here for a few years with what they call ‘capsules’: capsules of four or five weeks as a part of the bespoke short course programme. I’m going to make a movie in November, and there’s a number of other things I have to do. But I will always find a way to call CSM in advance and say “Listen, in two months I’m going to have three weeks.”
1G: So what have you done in the first two weeks?
AB: We have been researching, sketching, learning to use the machinery and we are designing our first work. That shirt over there in the back corner, that’s mine! But that’s not about the design, that’s just learning.
1G: But that’s how you start. Especially in menswear garment construction is very important.
AB: It is. I mean, this is not a tailoring school – they prepare people for creativity. And you can see that immediately in the way they teach. The collections I have seen from the first years, they are always very crazy. Everybody comes with everything and the teachers let them go and say “Let it out!” You have to discover yourself and make things that are very artistic for the catwalks and stuff, but then you’re going to have to make things that are wearable.
1G: You can always tone it down after you’ve let everything out.
1G: In the first two years we get projects and they are literally a piece of paper: “This is the project, see you in a week.” We’ve never been taught “This is what a skirt is” – you teach yourself, and the tutors guide you along the way. You’ve probably already experienced it with Louis (Loizou, BA Menswear & Knitwear pattern cutting tutor extraordinaire). You have a lot of freedom, and I think that is the best way to learn.
AB: Absolutely. You know, I was born where Picasso was born. Before he got into abstraction, he was figurative. He knew how to draw…
1G: He could draw perfectly…
AB: Perfectly! And then he could just decompose the pattern and go: “This is the way I see the world, how I see shapes and people.” This is pretty much the same. So the reason that I am here is because of respect. Respect for the people who do this. Admiration. When you see how difficult the work actually is… Believe me, it is more difficult to play with a sewing machine than to drive a Ferrari… It is! Your fingers are there, and suddenly… so suddenly… everything goes trrrrrrrrr! And it turns. The other day I was watching the documentary Dior and I, and you see the atelier and how they work. You know, these people are not the artist, but they make the artist shine, because of how they finish everything – fifteen people around one skirt, putting on beads… Then you understand.
1G: They make the fabric as well – everything is non-existent before.
AB: Exactly! You understand it is a collective art – like movies. I directed two movies, and I know that you cannot do it by yourself. You need a department of wardrobe, of photography, of sound… And they all need to be on the same boat. And you have to accept things. That dress was blue in your mind, and suddenly the costume guy comes and says: “No, look at this green!” And if you are open, you let people participate – that is an act of directorial art, in a way. And I think that fashion is basically the same – it’s about how to direct a design team. And of course if you are a genius, you are going to surprise even your own atelier. It’s been truly magic for me here. It’s not possible that when I go to the machine it does CLACK and a pleat into place! But it does. It’s beautiful. I feel like a little kid with new shoes. But I have a long way to go, years of experience to build up.
“This is not a tailoring school – they prepare people for creativity”
1G: As an actor, when you’re developing a role, costume must be a very big part of that whole experience?
AB: You have no idea how important that is. It can determine your character; it can take you from one direction to another. Sometimes the character is not so explosive, it’s not Zorro; it doesn’t have a cape with a mask and a hat, you know. Which is very complicated too – Zorro was actually on the cartoon strips in the New York Times, and the guy who created him didn’t think that a sword man needed space to see; you cannot see the sides with a hat like this! The woman who did the outfit for the movie had to sort out all these things. It’s very important to feel comfortable. Comfortable shoes for me are very important when I do theatre. For whatever reason, I need to feel very attached to the ground; I need to feel that my feet are actually there.
1G: Do you think your acting career goes hand in hand with what you intend to do with clothes?
AB: It does. Because in reality, you know, the world is a theatre and we all play characters. And what you wear is what you want to be.
1G: What would you like to focus on in your work?
AB: There is one garment that I love that was lost in menswear a long time ago, and I would like to experiment with it: the cape. Capes in the winter, in places like this… I think they have incredible possibilities. They’re very comfortable. And especially nowadays every place has heating, and it’s not like in the old days when inside was almost as cold as outside, so people had to be properly layered. Now, in winter time, you could just wrap yourself up in a cape, it’s so easy! CLACK! There are all these varieties of capes. For example, in the time of Charles the Third in Spain, capes were an instrument to kill – and to cover yourself. People used to do this (makes Zorro move) and nobody would know who you were. So they used to cut the capes and do these short capes, because it was forbidden by the law to wear long capes at night. You can experiment with colours, textures, you can do a number of things. And it is in a way so logical, coming from Zorro! (laughs)
1G: Yeah, I’ve never heard anyone say they wanted to rework the cape for men!
AB: In Spain there are still places where there are clubs of people who love to wear capes. The shape has almost the same shape as the capote for bullfighting, in beautiful pink silk, with yellow or blue in the back. For me, it’s actually easier than a coat, you walk into a place and you just BOOM! throw it off. It depends on the materials that are used, but now there are unbelievable materials!
1G: If you do it in nylon you could make the whole cape fold into a pocket…
AB: That’s one of the things I am learning with these guys too: fabrics. Yesterday we went to two stores in Soho… Wow! I loved it. These plastics, these new things you see… Right now I have to hold the horses and say: “My first design… I’m not going to go crazy. I’m going to do the same design that I did first time, but with a couple of new details.” I have to be clear that this is my path, and I’m going to do it step by step. It’s going to take me years to get the knowledge I am searching for with a certain level of security and credibility for myself and the people I am working with – and the public.
“Fashion is a collective art, like movies”
1G: So you’re working with a couple of the menswear students, doing the same projects simultaneously?
AB: Yes, and my girlfriend Nicole is here too.
1G: Is Louis very strict with you? He’s known to be very strict…
Nicole: No, he’s very nice!
Louis Loizou: I am team Nicole though… I’m not on Antonio’s team.
1G: So how are you enjoying it Louis?
LL: I like teaching, and it’s rewarding to see students learning and progressing. Even the small steps – every day you learn something new. The minute you stop learning you’ve kind of given up.
AB: I just got this idea to burn a fabric, but they don’t allow me to do it!
1G: Hahaha, the fire alarm will go off instantly in this building!
Chris New (head of BA Menswear): Can you hide his lighter please??
1G: So do you have homework to do Antonio?
AB: Oh yeah! First of all I have to do my sketches for tomorrow, and then we are going to start working on patterns.
LL: They’ve made a shirt now from start to finish, which was really good.
1G: And how is the course structured, are you going from general research to design and then making?
AB: Yes, yesterday we spent the whole day in the library looking at books.
1G: What were you looking at?
AB: Twentieth century workers. One of the books was on sailors in the 30s and 40s. You see sailors in Africa wearing practically nothing – some of them were totally naked, totally! And then you go North where they wear a lot of turtlenecks, strong fabrics; for shirts they were probably using some kind of grease on the top for protection. Then we looked at miners. I did a movie last year about the miners that got trapped in Chile, it’s a movie called Los 33, so I am very familiar with that world, but these pictures were kind of older, all from the 60s and 70s. A lot of different fabrics, very strong, different ways to wrap things around your neck, how to cover your face… There are lots of ideas.
But as I said to you before, I want to keep it simple with my first design. It is going to be a shirt from a thick material, and I will make it look bit older with the process of burning. Then they asked us to go a little bit further with the design so we also ended up with the ribbing that you use to do turtlenecks for the collar. And it comes from the top of the collar and falls down. So you can actually put it inside the shirt – very simple – or you can wrap the whole entire thing around your neck. You have buttons made of this bone collar – very irregular.
Then I’m probably going to have stamped numbers – we can hopefully burn numbers. Because workers had numbers at that particular time. Now how am I going to do this? Hmmm… (he starts singing) ♪♪♪ It’s a mystery, it’s a mystery, señora…..♪♪♪
If you dream to bump into Antonio in the CSM corridors, go and check what other short courses in CSM you can attend. Kanye, we are talking to you.
Interview by Sheryn Akiki and Julia van IJken
Words by Julia van IJken
Photography by William Scarborough