Representing the creative future

Marques’ Almeida: the beginnings

Marques’ Almeida is one of the hottest young London fashion brands. For the debut collection the designers’ duo created the story of youth and raw effortlessness style of the 90s with ripped denim – in a way you’ve never seen it before. They immediately gained sympathy of the fashion editors, attention of the Fashion East, and Opening Ceremony, Desperado in Tokyo and Joyce in Hong Kong as their stockists. But the starting point of the story was MA at Central Saint Martins, which turned the couple into the true fashion collaborators.

Marta Marques and Paolo Almeida both graduated from CITEX Fashion School in Portugal. They moved to London in 2009, gained experience at Vivienne Westwood/ Anglomania (Marques) and Preen (Almeida) and went through one of the most intense and amazing experiences possible for a fashion designer – MA at Central Saint Martins. We visited their studio located between Shoreditch and Haggerston, and asked Paolo and Martha to share some memories from CSM

How have you first met?

We met in 2005 when we started our BA in Portugal. We went through the BA doing individual projects. We always had something to say about each other’s work, but had individual paths, it was all separate in terms of work until the MA.

So the MA has brought you together?

We still started it individually, got accepted separately, started individual projects and then, halfway through it, while doing pre-collection we realised we have developed enough individually. We’ve always wanted to start our own brand, had it on the back of our minds, and it was the best time to go for it.

What was Louise Wilson’s reaction to your decision to work together?

We were really scared and thought it was never going to happen. Especially if you think of all the bureaucracy of two students doing one project. We talked to one of our tutors and she said she didn’t remember that happening in 10 or 15 years. We thought seeing Louise about it would be a nightmare. But she was really supportive and said if it worked for us, than that’s what we should do.

So how does it work, how do you manage to design together?

I think it has to deal with us being a couple and being together for such a long time. We basically can say anything and be stubborn with each other and that’s fine. We have a really strong vision of what our strong points are, and have different skills so we know where we have to stop. We divide the work almost instinctively. The design part is mostly being stubborn about what we want to do and try everything.

 Do you remember your interview?

Paolo: The first thing I’ve heard was “What the fuck are you wearing, that’s the ugliest jumper I’ve ever seen”. And it was just a basic jumper…

Martha: I think we were talking for 10 minutes about why did I cut my hair like that, as it was so much better in the picture. Also Louise realised that we had something in common because we came from the same school and started asking question how we were related. I can’t keep anything in so I just told the whole thing, that we were a couple. At the door she said “You can go tell your boyfriend he’s in”. So we knew he was in, and we had to wait for 2 months to find out if I was in. Now it seems funny, at the moment it felt really weird.

When we see students from BA going to MA, it is very obvious how the MA changed them. How did the MA change you?

The whole process how we work and design changed completely after the MA. Education in Portugal is very technical and industrial-oriented. There is a lot of manufacturing, it’s more high street and trains you to be really good commercially.  So whenever we tried to do something oversized, it wasn’t oversized enough. One of out tutors, Gene Shepard, was someone who was always pushing us in that direction. Also in Portugal we don’t have access to information and research which we have here. But the most amazing thing about the MA is that you spent a great amount of time trying to find yourself as a designer, trying to find your own identity. And it changes you in a very good way.

Why CSM is different to other fashion schools and what makes it so special?

It might be mainly because of Louise. She has a great eye for what you are and what you are capable of and she won’t t rest until you get to that point. She knows even before you know what you’re good at and she makes you work really hard to get there. She has an amazing knowledge, has been doing it for years, so in tune with what’s happening in the industry. Most of the times when you are a young designer, you’re very confused, you love Balenciaga but you also love Lanvin, and you can’t really focus. She makes you sit down and look at everything, and then you finally understand what you respond to. That’s what happened to us during the MA.

What was your favourite bit of the course?

When you’re on the first year, it’s very amusing to watch Louise. She’s not picking on you so it’s really funny. You just stare at her and you think how crazy, how amazing, smart and how hilarious a person can be. Once it’s getting on your side that’s not as funny anymore but you can still appreciate it. Also the end of the course, the show and the sense that you’ve made it are really nice.

 When it comes to the world outside CSM, what’s the hardest part of setting up your own brand?

The hard part is learning on the go because you do so many things you never thought you would do… You spend only about 10% of time designing and the rest of the time dealing with things you didn’t even know existed. The whole business side of things… It’s also getting harder as things are growing. You think it would get more stable but it’s actually getting even crazier. We are lucky because we got to the Fashion East straight after the MA. We had their support, and had their help on the business side.

How was it working with Fashion East?

The whole Fashion East Experience was really really good. Even the show was a totally positive experience, not stressful at all. Maybe because compared to the MA nothing is as stressful. Being able to do that show was amazing, especially once you come out after the MA which is so intense and so serious.

How did u start working with the Opening Ceremony?

One of the good things about the Fashion East is that we got an opportunity to do the sales in the showroom at the right time, and the Opening Ceremony byers saw the collection there and loved it. We’ve never been to New York, but our friend went and the sales assistant said that our pieces are selling like hot cakes. During the fashion week they sold out lots of them and had to re-oder for Spring-Summer. That’s the best thing which could happen!

Any advice for young designers entering the MA at Central Saint Martins?

Try to have friends around. At least a group of four or five people who you trust and feel comfortable with, can have a quick chat with when the presentation went really badly. It’s always a lot of drama, so it’s good to be not by yourself. Work hard… Sometimes you’d better not work hard though. Sometimes you have to just stop and think for a while.  Once Louis said that we were working like at a Korean shoe factory and we would better stop for a while.

The most important thing you learnt at the MA?

Who we are as designers. What we want to do and what we want to say.

Anything you would do differently?

We wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. In some way, it really goes inside you until you find the instinctive way to design. It sounds really cheesy, but you can’t change it.