João Barriga - Fashion Designer
João is the kind of artist that projects himself into his creations. We wanted to fully understand his design, so getting to know him and his ideas seemed like the logical way to enter his fashion universe. Join us and meet the winner of this season’s edition of ModaLisboa.
You started your path in Fashion by taking a “workshop modeler” course and then went on to study fashion design. How were they different to you?
The Workshop Modeler course is very intensive, during a year, and it is good to show you everything you can do in the fashion industry, but targets tailor made confection that focuses on working with a specific client. In fashion design, the focus is on the design of the garments. It isn’t such a personalised kind of work, when compared to what happens in an atelier where people come in, you take their measurements and construct garments specifically for them.
Both were very valuable learning experiences, without a doubt.
And do you feel it is important to have some kind of contact with the fashion industry before applying to a fashion design course?
If I think about my school (Modatex), I don’t think it is necessary, because in the first modules they prepare you really well for what’s to come. I had people in my class who had just finished highschool and that were very successful in the course, being even able to elevate the level of work of people who had had previous contact with the industry.
Soon, you will have a new challenge in Milan. What are you expecting?
I’m not sure yet, but the course has two options: one to help you develop your own personal work, and another where you learn skills that will focus on helping you work for other brands. I’m not sure which one I’ll choose yet, but I’m leaning towards the first option.
Now, for the fun questions! Your collection was all about hiding shapes and feelings. The idea was for the clothes to shield you from society and to remove identity and, by doing that, creating a new identity. When you talk about hiding feelings and creating identities, are you talking about hiding your true identity and creating a new phoney one?
Yes. The new identity is visual, not personal. You can control what people think about you through the way you look. By looking at you people can think whatever they want about you, and you can take advantage of that and use it in your favour. You can create an image that can help you protect your identity by projecting a new one. You can convey whatever image you want to.
Do you think that this creation of a visual identity that doesn’t correspond to your own identity, can be one of the things that makes “outsiders” believe the fashion world is shallow? Because they don’t understand this portraying of an image identity is thought and deliberate?
I do. People that are outside this industry most times don’t understand that this is not just a shallow world. Fashion is an industry. It exists because of clothes manufacturing and money trading. The image creation is just the base of the industry. So much more happens afterwards.
However, I believe that this “shallow” perception about the fashion industry is much more related to the consumption of fashion and not the production. But then “outsiders” generalize and help create this idea that fashion is superficial. Period.
Your nihilistic vision of the world helped you create the BLACKOUT moto for this collection, associated with anger. Nihilism may be seen in two very different ways: a very positive one where, if you question the absolute truth about everything, then you are truly free because there is no limit to self expression; and a more negative one, that generates the dark revolution you talked about when describing your collection. By looking at your presentation, one can identify both extremes. In a practical way, how have you tried to “insert” nihilism in your collection?
Nihilism, as I see it, is about questioning ourselves. Who we are and what we are doing here. We think about it and let it absorb and consume us – that’s a more negative approach, if you will. That’s heavy and dark, so I showcased it in my collection. But then there is a bohemian way of thinking, also: we may question everything but then realize this gives us the opportunity to be free and enjoy this freedom of questioning everything. And here the music I used and some details in the garments were pointing towards a more festive environment. It is all about using fashion as a getaway from things we can’t understand and forget all about it by entering a more bohemian lifestyle.
You were talking about the music you used to present your collection… To what extent do you find important to work with not only fashion, but also specific models and music when presenting a collection?
It is absolutely important. People are absorbing information while looking at your collection. I always work in a global way. When I think about clothes, I think about music also, and who will wear them. And I want to show that to people when I’m presenting my collection. I want to be as true to my ideas as I can, and present them in a way so people can fully understand those ideas.
The music I used for the presentation was the music I was listening to when developing this collection. And when I was sketching the pieces in my notebook, I always ended up drawing myself wearing the clothes. I kept drawing tall skinny figures with shaved hair, with large under eye circles. Then I transported all this imaginary to the show.
Of course in ModaLisboa, the casting is not all up to the designers (in Sangue Novo), but I adapted the models I got to work with in order to showcase my idea the best I could. Then, in the campaign, I will absolutely have the opportunity to choose the models that have the exact image I idealize.
You were saying you always ended up drawing yourself in your sketches. You were projecting yourself in this collection. How do you think this is going to affect your next collections? Will you keep projecting yourself?
I don’t know… I think the next collections won’t be as egocentric. In this collection I mostly worked with pieces I wear, but pushed to the limits. The next collection I will most likely keep working with oversize, but maybe not in such a darker way. Maybe I’ll be in a different stage of my life where I’ll look at things differently and that will for sure reflect in my future work
In the description of your collection, you talked about the dissipation of gender. In today’s society we are hearing more and more about this. Even in fast-fashion, with Zara working this segment. How do you think this revolution of gender, will transform the fashion industry?
Well, mostly in a financial perspective, I would say. From the moment you are no longer working for a specific costumer/gender, many differences arise. New possibilities for marketing and communications of brands will emerge, we will be able to target more consumers at once… But I believe this will only happen in some fashion segments. If we talk about formal wear (suits and gowns), for example, I don’t believe this trend will be relevant. But if we think about street wear, sportswear, casualwear… in this segments the gender dissipation trend will be of great impact.
We are already witnessing it, in fact… we are witnessing trends like boyfriend jeans and shirts…
True, but the opposite is not yet a reality. So, we see there is an openness from women to wear men’s fashion. But we still need to work on the reverse.
In Portugal, in particular, do you think we will be late to this trend?
There is an overall trend in Portugal to be late in most things when compared to the rest of the world!
Even our generation?
Well, our generation is more open and, because of the proliferation of Internet, maybe we are more informed, connected and receptive to new ideas. But yes, there will still be an overall delay in Portugal, because our generation is living among many others as well, that would still be resistant towards these new ideas.
And even in our generation… this trend is not for everyone, I would say.
Connecting two concepts you have talked about: do you believe gender dissipation and identity are related? In other words: when you talk about denial and hiding identity, do you think you are also talking about hiding gender?
I don’t think gender and identity are related. Of course the majority of people have our gender into consideration when defining their perception of our identity. We say “him”, “her”, “she”, “he” … People are associating our identity with gender. And of course, we need a way of looking at people and defining them. But internally, as individuals, our consciousness of identity has nothing to do with gender. My gender and my body don’t define my identity. What defines identity are experiences, memories and everything that happens in your conscience. That is what defines who you are.
And when you talked about hiding the identity, were you talking about protecting it?
And do you think nowadays, living in an urban society, the image people have about us, affects us or are we able to live alone because of remote work and social networks, thus not being affected by what others think about us? How is fashion transforming identity with this new ways of communication?
If we are at home and communicate with others virtually, the way to communicate our identity (in what fashion is concerned) is through images. The most common way of showing their identity in the virtual world is by taking pictures and sharing them. I’m talking about the identity they want to portray, that may be different from the real one. You see those boys and girls posting outfit pictures. You see bloggers. They’re presenting an identity with those pictures, but you will never know if that is their true identity. It is a choice. They are choosing the right pictures to convey the image they want to share with the world. And this works in real life as well. You put clothes on and immediately you are incorporating an attitude. Clothes and attitudes are absolutely linked.
Do you think people dress what they feel, or the dress in order to feel what they want to?
I think both scenarios are possible. Me, personally, I dress what I feel and I transport it to my designs. But some people choose to wear items that can empower them or help them present the visual identity they want society to identify them with.
Do you think the frenetic rhythm of our society will canalize fashion into the idea of “uniforms” or will fashion be more and more personalized?
The second, no doubt. We have so little time (seconds, really) to present ourselves to society, that people will make those seconds count. And the most effective way to do it is through fashion, so people will try to individualize style in order to distance themselves from others and make themselves recognizable and memorable. People will want to distinguish themselves from others.
You are a young designer working in Portugal. Do you believe we have talented fashion designers in Portugal?
I do. Not only young designers, but also more established ones. But I think the public is not receptive to their work, in a general way.
Why do you think that happens?
Because people don’t understand that designers, specially the ones that are starting, are not able to make the same prices as established brands or fast fashion. Designers don’t have the same production costs as fast fashion companies, so prices are higher, and people are not willing to pay more for clothes, because they don’t understand the investment there is behind a designer garment.
How do you think we can change this mentality?
I’m still trying to figure that one out. It is very complicated. Maybe if you create a product people really desire… The best way would be to create a need for the product and to sell a lifestyle with it. And then people would want to have that lifestyle and would buy the product (the clothes) in order to try to achieve that lifestyle.
Do you think it might be useful for young designers to use digital influencers?
I think it might be, in the sense that using digital influencers is another tool we have available. It is useful to reach a broader audience. The question here is to choose careful the influencer to use in order to showcase your work, because you wouldn’t want your name tarnished.
interview Catarina F. Pinto
photography Gonçalo M. Catarino
find out more at JOÃO BARRIGA