In a fashion landscape dictated by algorithms, where social media enforces homogeny and press releases are regurgitated, London-based label Marques’Almeida is keeping the rebellion alive. "M’A has always been about two things first and foremost," a brand statement reads, "building a fashion brand that revolves around its people and quietly defying the system, making it more inclusive and realist."
Founded in 2011 by Portuguese designers Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, the brand is a longtime favourite of cool kids the world over, thanks in large part to the duo identifying a shift in the way young women and men engage with luxury fashion. Not seeing themselves reflected on the catwalks or in the campaigns of household name brands, M’A speaks to them because it designs for their lives: green slip dresses to match their Friday night vodka soda limes; raw-edged denim that tears further when they fall off their skateboards.
Marta and Paulo have long championed their collective of M’A girls and boys, and this week they gave the power back to the people by hosting a 'gathering' to showcase their latest collection, shunning the traditional catwalk structure and instead allowing their community to frame their own gaze. Returning to their east London roots, where the brand was first nurtured by Lulu Kennedy and Fashion East, they invited their 50-strong M’A gang to capture themselves wearing new pieces while dancing around a smoke-filled Truman Brewery. Every selfie, video and photo taken by the models was projected onto the walls of the space, creating a real-time, energetic and interactive happening.
Bouncing in and out of a dropped-top Cadillac, lounging on bean bags and taking selfies while having their makeup done by the legendary Terry Barber, the collective wore padded tie-dye jackets with sequin party dresses, striped deconstructed shirts with stomping biker boots, faux-fur bucket hats with graffiti-print skirts. The collection is signature M’A: for the girl who wants to wear cow print and motocross, cowboy boots and safety pins, who wants clothes that reflect, rather than dictate, her lifestyle. Sure, the brand counts Beyoncé, Jonathan Van Ness, Susie Lau and Tiffany Hsu as fans, but it’s the young artists, musicians and models of London who you really want to see styling Marques’Almeida.
We caught up with Marta to talk fashion’s constructed falsehood, selfies as self-expression, and Berlin’s rave culture.
Hi Marta! Why did the idea for the show first come about?
We were having conversations about traditional shows, and I guess the catalyst was a chat with one of our M’A girls, Lia Buddenbrock, who owns syn_agency. She interned for us then walked in a show and is generally a really inspiring person. She was saying how catwalk shows don’t speak to people like her and that looking back at the early '90s Margiela shows, you can see how exciting they have the potential to be. We all fell into this trap of doing shows a certain way, but through chatting to her we started to ask what would happen if we gave the power back to the boys and girls. What if they documented themselves and we, as simply spectators, saw the show from their perspective. We open up our studio as much as possible so people can have a peek inside our world because we hate anything that’s made up or choreographed, those fake moments. That’s where it all stemmed from, this want to give the visual power back to the boys and girls who have been inspiring us.
These sorts of happenings hark back to a pre-social media time in fashion, from tales of Warhol’s Factory to the Margiela shows you mentioned. It’s interesting because the act of taking a selfie – which you project onto the walls during the show for us all to watch – is so personal. You take one when you’re alone in the loo or in your bedroom...
The boys and girls we’ve invited and who walk our shows are in art or fashion school, or are young creatives just starting out in their careers, and for them social media is actually reality. Whereas the fashion industry became this constructed, orchestrated thing, for them it’s just their lives and the moments they capture with their friends. It’s funny, because Paulo and me are technologically illiterate, but through having these kids do our shows, rather than have magazine cuttings on our inspiration boards, we had their selfies. We saw how something as mundane as a selfie can serve as creative inspiration, and the concept show is just furthering that idea.
As well as inviting people who you’ve worked with previously, you did an open casting call for the 50 boys and girls in the show. What do you think unites your M’A gang?
It’s funny because before the show we were looking at the photos of the lineup, most of them Instagram pictures, and trying to assign looks according to what I know their personality is like. They are all really different, I think. There’s this quiet defiance. I don’t think they are necessarily loud but there is a willingness to fight the system and have a voice. I find that all of them kind of want to do something that makes a change.
What inspired the collection itself?
There came a point where the kind of inspiration we were getting from music and fashion magazines felt a bit sterile to us. This season, it all came from the girls we worked with. Take one called Saleha. She’s a fit model and she would come in wearing the most amazing vintage outfits, so we asked her to bring her old clothes that she had from being a teenager growing up in Germany. She bought two suitcases of stuff for us and we had a cool fitting with pieces I had in the studio and stuff we bought from sports stores mixed with her vintage. So the inspiration is kind of Berlin’s rave culture, with references to sportswear and techno.
That’s making me want to dress up and go clubbing now…
Exactly! Streetwear, party wear, but weird, I guess.
What’s the studio like when you’re creating collections?
There are always way too many snacks when we are working – I just went through a whole bag of Maltesers now. Music-wise, there’s always something that we get obsessed with. We had Mahalia’s album "Diary of Me" on repeat, which got us fascinated with our teen years and how you develop your personality at that time. We listened to Benjamin Clementine, too – it’s always a mix.
You’re returning to the Truman Brewery, which is where you first began with Fashion East. The platform is more important than ever in supporting emerging designers – what are your memories of that time?
We have the fondest memories of Fashion East because they make the whole terrifying thing so human and doable. Starting out on your first collection and first show, you have no idea what you’re doing, but Lulu was always on the other end of the phone to help you find an accountant or sell a collection in Paris. They’re very supportive. Lulu really nurtures her designers.
Everyone who has been through it speaks of it like a family, which is so lovely.
It really is. She’s coming on Thursday with her daughter, who plays with our daughter. It’s been years but you really cultivate relationships when you’re starting out.
You guys are from Portugal, and you’ve done Paris, so you’ve got this global perspective, but what is it about London that you’re happy to come back to?
You’re right, we are trying to make it super global, by getting rid of boundaries in terms of where and when we should be showing or whether we should integrate in fashion week. But there’s something about coming back after doing two seasons in Paris, especially with this event because it’s a risk. But then we’re doing it at home and around people we feel supported by – that’s why we were so inclined to come back to the Truman Brewery because it almost feels like a new beginning for us. A new way of doing things and of looking at and showing fashion. East London is where we have our studio, it’s where we live, it’s where most of these girls hang out – there’s still a very creative energy here.
What’s making you angry and excited right now?
What makes us angry is the way people are treated in the fashion world. It’s the reason we stopped using modelling agencies, because it feels like everyone gets wrapped up in the process and loses track of how you are supposed to deal with human beings. I do think the fashion system can get sterile and unexciting when it just becomes a way of selling clothes – too many clothes – that you don’t need. You start questioning it all. So for us, what makes us happy is looking at young creatives and learning from their experiences. I think that is what keeps us interested and engaged and excited for the future.