‘During COVID we said that the worst thing that could happen would be that everything goes back to "normal'' in the fashion industry. We really hope we can all start to make room for new ways of doing things and to be excited about it!’ explains husband and wife duo Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida over email ahead of their A/W 22 runway show. Forging their own path is exactly what they’ve been doing since they relocated the brand’s base of operations from London back to their home country of Portugal during those early pandemic days in 2020. Gearing up to present Marques'Almeida’s latest collection digitally, the creative couple hopes to transport their fans to the unspoilt landscape of the Portuguese coastline and showcase all the country has to offer.
With a lineup of models walking over water, the 2015 LVMH prize winners are doing more than highlighting the picturesque views. Earlier this year the brand announced its M’AKERS program, with a short film titled Can Traditional Artisanal Techniques Be Used As A Tool For Social Change? as part of London Fashion Week Digital. The research and mentorship initiative is just one example of the brand’s commitment to building global communities, and more sustainable production techniques as it works with Portuguese artisans to develop sculptural and exclusive pieces for the brand. This upcoming show will showcase work by Sofia Afonso, an obstetric nurse whose use of fish scales to create gleaming embroidery was a big inspiration for the collection. ‘We were working by the sea and in nature, every day and it did get into our brains – like an aquatic creature dragging nets and bits of seaweed and materials to turn into pieces of craft and art – it was our vision this season’ they explain.
With community at the heart of the Marques’Almeida brand it should come as no surprise that the relationships built with the M’AKERS happened organically. ‘It wasn't planned. The M’AKERS came about in different ways', they explain. A trip to the Azores Islands in the summer of 2021 led to introductions with local craftspeople like rugmaker Fátima Ferreira who sources leftover fabrics from nearby textile factories. ‘We met her through a friend of hers in a market where we used to buy the most amazing rugs. He made the introduction and we discovered that her little studio, where she weaves the rugs in a manual wooden loom, is 10 minutes from our studio.’
Portugal has offered a change of pace for the designers, but as they explain, the shift away from the fashion schedule is largely due to their views on sustainability. ‘We were tired of being stuck to a rigid system. We're very respectful of the industry and admire so many of the individuals in it but we've never been super comfortable staying in the "system" for too long when it feels we can’t justify it anymore.’ Working on their own time has led to innovative initiatives like M’AKERS and REM’ADE (where they upcycle deadstock fabrics to create one-off pieces), highlighting the brand’s commitment to slow, thoughtful production methods.
Freedom away from the industry's schedule has allowed them to explore new ways to limit the brand's environmental impact without sacrificing the brand's eclectic, rebellious aesthetic. The collection was rife with Marques'Almeida staples like frayed, deconstructed denim paired with patchwork pieces that are sure to keep the brand's die-hard fans happy. Still, it was the oceanic inspiration (thanks to the breathtaking views), along with the M'AKERS pieces that defined the collection. Fishnet-inspired tassel tops and bags harken images of bohemian beachcombers, while ruffled patchwork coats and fish-scale embroidery provided the perfect flamboyant display against the Atlantic ocean backdrop.
While the designers have made admirable strides to a sustainable future, they know that the road forward is all about adapting to change. ‘There isn’t a quick fix, there are several layers and angles to every situation, and you might think you’re doing the right thing but then you learn that you're not,’ they explain. As they continue to do things on their own terms the only thing certain is the brand's commitment to sustainability while building a global community. For the designers, the importance of staying connected with their fanbase meant making the collection available for purchase on the Marques'Almeida website as the final model splashed down the shore.