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Marques'Almeida: Designers for the Digital Age

Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida streamed myriad references through their expansive S/S17 collection – tapping up new fans in the process

TextNatalie RiggPhotographyFederico FerrariPhotographic EditorHolly Hay

Community is at the core of Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida’s London-based label. From the open casting calls and styling competitions which are frequently broadcasted to their #OurMAgirls fanbase through social media; to their inclusive aesthetic, which filters a vast medley of references – addressing girls with an affinity for punk rock culture with the same ease as those with a predilection for, say, William Morris. Not to mention their carefully controlled price points, which stop the brand from becoming too exclusive or, heaven forbid, elitist. In fact, one glance at the audience of their Spring/Summer 2017 runway show at Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery ratifies their warm accessibility, with both fashion veterans and junior assistants sporting various incarnations of their alluringly deconstructed line. 

It was an apt move, then, for the designers to publically disclose the starting point for their latest outing in the collection’s show notes, which published a fairly lengthy email conversation between Marques and [the brand’s retail manager] Rita Tavares from the end of last week. “It feels like we’re really building a wardrobe that these girls want to wear, and is made for them,” wrote Marques on 19 Sep 2016 at 09:43, before concluding that, “The more girls we know and embrace, the more we understand them.”

Influence and Sway
The casting of Marques'Almeida’s S/S17 show comprised “20-something of our friends, and then maybe 15 models that have done our shows for ages and ages, so models-slash-friends,” revealed an upbeat Marques post-show. “They’re like family,” intercepted Almeida. So much so, it seems, that just one week ago, the duo invited each of their model-slash-friends to their compact studio to try on their proposed looks in order to gauge whether they felt comfortable enough. “It was chaotic but important that they try everything on and then say stuff like, ‘oh no but I really like that skirt’, or ‘can I please have those boots instead’,” said Almeida. “When they’re in the outfit that they’re comfortable with, that’s it, it really shows on the runway. This didn’t used to happen when we just did model casting, so it really opened our eyes.”

They’re onto something there. The assorted line-up certainly looked at home in their chosen outfits, which ran the gamut between floral brocade suiting (made modern with puffed quarter sleeves, left unfinished to fray as their signature requires) to basketball and punk rock tees with extended sheer tulle sleeves and ruched metallic trousers, further dramatized by giant zips that resembled 1990s piercings. “We’ve come to a point when we don’t want to create a collection that was focused on this or that specifically,” said Marques. “All of the elements kind of fell into place because all of our girls are so different – in a way, mixing all of these elements up was the real challenge,” she notes. The diversity of which Marques speaks was further amplified by the show’s soundtrack, opening with the iconic Concerto No.2 in G Minor from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and closing with the spirited gnarls and throbbing bass licks of Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill.

A Liberating Evolution
Winning the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize last year has certainly had a profound impact on the burgeoning brand. In addition to hiring more studio staff, which, as Marques noted, “allowed Paulo and I far more time to actually design, and think about design,” the 300,000 Euro cash injection also reflected in their choice of fabrications for S/S17 – with soft-to-touch printed satin, French lace, supple striped leathers and opulent brocade all on show. “We could actually push ourselves rather than being stuck with the ins and outs of running a business. It freed us up and enabled us to take more risks,” affirmed Almeida.

Also palpable was the progression of their accessories line, which, for the first time included sepia-toned sporty sunglasses and jewellery in the form of large silver hoops and oversized glossy chokers. “We have always believed in the full look, so this [expansion] was really important to us. It just wouldn’t make sense to put the girls in a random stiletto,” Almeida continued. “Yeah, because it’s all about the girls. It’s about her mood and her attitude and that has to come through the accessories.” Shoes, too, came in thick and fast – spanning thigh-high leather boots, lace-up Teva sandals and metallic frill-fronted flats. “Yeah, there’s loads of them this season,” laughed Marques. “The prize allowed us to invest in these kinds of things, it’s what we've always wanted to do.”

Designers for the Digital Age
Asking Marques and Almeida to pinpoint a specific single reference (a painting, an exhibition, a film, a defining moment?) is virtually impossible. Perhaps this is because they design directly for their multifarious MA girl – ingesting then reappropriating their sources through the medium of collage with the lightning speed and dexterity of a modern application such as Instagram. “We do a lot of research online and from magazines, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be something literal – it might the shape of a sleeve in, say, an editorial from the early 2000s,” expanded Marques. “We don’t necessarily have to go full-on historical. We’ll maybe place something classical next to a skater T-shirt. It’s a collage of references, and that’s what makes sense to us right now.” Long may their madcap mash-up continue.