Thursday 4th July

| BY Helena Fletcher

Ten Meets Marques’ Almeida, Ahead of Their Show Casting Party at 50m in London

The sense of community is truly what sets Marques’Almeida apart from other young brands. Although they might use the occasional hashtag from time to time, their approach isn’t about hype, focused instead on developing a network around them that not only buys, wears and are ambassadors for their clothes but in turn feedback into the brand’s constant evolution. It is a sincere discourse rather than a buzz-wordy marketing ploy, and when the M’A community talks, the designers listen.

“The one thing Paulo [Almeida] and I knew we wanted to do when we left the MA at Saint Martin’s is that we wanted to somehow create a high fashion label that felt accessible and relatable to a slightly younger consumer and slightly different consumer,” explains Marta Marques over the phone following the pairs return from their first standalone Paris showroom, which took place in a tiny gallery space in Le Marais. “We were going around department stores and everything felt beautiful but just kind of really unattainable to our generation, including the generation of people that were the designers behind these houses and were doing brands, and just didn’t relate to that whole atmosphere. So we wanted to do something that felt kind of special because it was imperfect, because it was lived in and because it kind of spoke more to that generation rather than because it was kind of really precious,” she says.

Since graduating from Central Saint Martin’s and establishing their brand, the Portuguese-born east London-based design duo Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida have continually consciously tried to take a more considered approach to how they create, show and retail fashion. Propelled into prominence for their deconstructed denim that ran throughout their final collection, Almeida and Marques kickstarted the brand with the support of Fashion East, the BFC’s Newgen and Topshop, and were the recipients of the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers in 2015. It was after graduating from these support schemes, facing the daunting and incredibly expensive task of putting on their own seasonal fashion shows that their thoughts around showing fashion began to change significantly. They began to build up a community of M’A Girls around them, often young creatives studying or working in London who were introduced through their immediate network, street cast or found on social media. These girls started borrowing, buying and wearing their clothes and quickly became the faces of their shoots and campaigns, walked in their shows, and in turn “went full-circle” and began inspiring the progression of the brand.

“We really began to feel like we were meant to know these girls and have them around because they were the essence of the brand. It was always about this younger generation starting out in kind of creative fields and how incredibly inspiring that is for us,” says Marques. “The turning point was when we realised it didn’t have to be inspired just by the past, or just by art or by music; there were all these girls here, in front of us, and their friends, and their friends, and someone else on their Instagram,” she continues. “And that was actually what we’ve always talked about: young people, experimenting whilst trying out fashion, having a really kind of passionate relationship with it and that was incredibly inspiring for us as designers, so I think the time we decided to change the casting and started doing that, our design process changed as well, and I’m glad it did.”

Around this time, as awareness of the brand and their list of top international stockists continued to increase incrementally, the pair also began to really realise that the fashion show as a means of presenting their collections and conveying the ethos and spirit of Marques’Almeida, could be incredibly limiting. “They became just a bit sterile I think in terms of what [shows can] convey, in terms of the soul and the identity that a brand stands for and why it’s there and why it’s important that it’s there, rather than just showing clothes and I think it also felt like there was a very strict system and we don’t like being on the system. I don’t think we ever did,” says Marques.

“I think we always feel like we get into showing and we do it for a few seasons and then we get stuck and we feel that there’s no need to be doing this way because that’s how the system works, that’s how some people work and we found that for us it made more sense to say at some point we’re not going to be rigid about it,” she explains candidly, yet with an infectious optimism. “We’re not going to have a full-on plan for the next few years, we’re going to do whatever feels right but also with technology and with obviously the internet things started changing so much faster that it didn’t make sense to be stuck to some kind of, like, a model of the past. Shows might serve the industry, but it doesn’t serve our end-consumer so what’s the point?” After two seasons showing their collections at Paris Fashion Week and building a pillar of their community there, Marques’Almeida is returning to London to present their AW19 collection off-schedule in an immersive event, open not only to the press, friends of the brand and industry insiders but also to the public later this month.

Inspired by the guerrilla fashion shows of the 1990s the event in the Truman Brewery will have no formal backstage and front of house, the models will be hanging out interacting in a space inspired by the feeling of nineties raves, dressed head-to-toe in Marques’Almeida naturally. The clothes will be available to buy from a pop-up shop which will run for the rest of the weekend just a few doors down from the event space. The atmosphere will be open, with the models, hair and make-up team, as well as the designers themselves, all available to talk to. Rather than straight-up catwalk photos, the models will be filmed by members of the team, but also capturing their own narratives through their phones and cameras in a conscious attempt to break down the barrier between an objectified mannequin and active wearer of clothes – shifting the role of the attendees from passive spectators. It will be a literal homecoming for M’A who have shown and hosted multiple pop-ups in Truman Brewery spaces and is the home of Fashion East, the talent incubator with which they showed their first collections.

The idea for the event came about through discussions with one of their former interns, M’A Girl and founder of the creative agency Syn, Lia Buddenbrock, centering around the sterility of contemporary fashion shows and feeling the loss of a guerrilla mentality and informality that made bygone Margiela and Bless shows so memorable. Amongst the eclectic mix of references, that range from rock band Bikini Kill to imagery of fifties modernist décor and architecture, that are currently populating Marques’Almedia’s mood board, the collection itself takes inspiration from Buddenbrock’s own wardrobe, from the vintage pieces and “crazy rave gear” she amassed whilst growing up in Berlin.

The upcoming AW19 show will be populated through a casting party hosted at 50m, the experimental concept store supporting emerging designers in Eccleston Yards, a stone’s throw away from Victoria station. After meeting the 50m team in Paris, the idea for collaborating started with a pop-up selling pieces from past seasons and archive pieces (that will run until the end of July), followed by discussions about how to get more people involved in the brand and achieve a more inclusive and diverse cast of models for their upcoming show, which manifested as the casting party. “We reached out to Marta and Paulo because we love what they do. 50m is about positive fashion and celebrating and supporting brands that we love who have something to say. M’A has always been about empowering a generation of girls and celebrating them, which is an important message during the times we are in,” says Tracey Suen, 50m’s founding director. “We have a huge space in the centre of London and when we are not selling clothes we try to open it up to London and bring people together.”

Wanting to be truly inclusive Marques’Almeida are no longer welcoming just M’A Girls, but now building a M’A Family. “We’re talking about non-gender specific approach, transgender, trying to get boys in the mix as well, we’re trying to make sure people understand that we’re really not kind of fixed to any shape, size, race, height, style,” says Marques. “It’s about a kind of attitude, and being engaged with the brand as much as we’re engaged with them.”

Thinking not only about who their clothes are created for and how best to communicate that, M’A has been considering the consumption of their pieces. Realising that their stockists or temporary pop-up shops may not be accessible for many, over the last few years they have been developing their website, which they hope to launch in time for the event. “But it’s not just an online shop, but somewhere where you can go and rent or borrow pieces and shop pre-owned Marques’Almeida, so you can shop stuff at a much cheaper price,” Marques enthuses with palpable excitement. “So we can also give pieces a longer lifespan, and start addressing issues with waste and the issues with climate, to the point that we can, which is to kind of make sure that the stuff that we do doesn’t, you know, live for a few months in someone’s closet, and is more affordable to some people.” The idea, again, was conceptualised through conversations with their community, considering responsibility, sustainability and contemporary progressions in buying habits. “It’s so important to just try and think about shopping and consuming fashion in a slightly different way to what we’ve done so far because we do realise how much waste we generate as a company, we’re trying to be mindful of how we can continue to change.”

Marques’Almeida’s Casting Party is being held at 50m, 14-15 Eccleston Yards, London from 18:30pm on the 4th of July, and the pop-up shop will run until the end of the month.