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Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida channel real-girl attitude. They cast their friends and family to walk their shows, style their looks and shoot and star in their campaigns. They design effortlessly cool clothes that women really want to wear. Repeatedly. And they changed the denim game – forever. Who wants to be in the M’A gang? We do! We talk double vision, ‘90s and squad goals with the Portuguese-born, London-based duo.
On AW16…

Marta: It was a fun season, we still feel as if it was quite a big step compared to other seasons. I think the collection felt different, and it was different for us as well. We always had this idea that we wanted to develop until we felt comfortable enough to ditch it. I think by Winter 16, we’d explored our clean, grungy, same-colour, same-material aesthetic and we felt ready to design a collection that wasn’t about creating looks but rather designing individual garments and thinking about a girl’s wardrobe.
Thinking about our girls, about our friends, and our private clients and what they wear… seeing the likes of Tess [Yopp] wearing an amazing pair of pointed shoes and then making our own version… it was really different to make! We were thinking about creating this huge wardrobe for all of these different girls who each approach fashion so differently… we had rails and rails full of these pieces and came up with the styled looks with the girls just a few days before the show. It was intense but really fun!

On the M’A girls…


Marta: It is kind of weird, we don’t really select the girls… people like Tess and Masha [Mel] and Bertie [Brandes] just came into our studio when we were doing our first and second collection and said “I love your stuff”, “I want to wear your stuff”, “I want to buy your stuff”, “I am leaving with it on right now!” You know they found us – luckily! – and because the collection spoke to them – and that makes me and Paulo very proud – they became our clients. And then of course there are the girls that work this us, there are 10 girls in the office and they are all so cool and they all wear their Marques’Almeida so differently. We like to explore the way they see the brand.
On the show…

Marta: The atmosphere backstage was amazing, we’ve never had a super stressful backstage moment because Paulo and I don’t like that whole drama so we try to keep things as relaxed as possible. We worked so hard to make the collection and to get to that moment and if we don’t enjoy it then there is no point. Especially for AW16 because there are all these girls that have never done a show in their life! They were just lining up with their teas and their coffees and chatting to each other – it was amazing!

On how it all began…


Marta: We both grew up in Portugal, we were both always interested in fashion, but it maybe didn’t make sense as a career because it was so hard and you wouldn’t hear of anyone following that profession – you knew what your options were. So we both kind of got into other things like architecture and graphic design and then it was just before we started college that we heard about this fashion school in Portugal [CITEX] that was the best in fashion design and decided that we were going to do it, and that is where we met.

On graduating from Central St Martins as a duo…

Marta: We never really thought we would get in together. I think we were very lucky, one of our tutors had said it hadn’t happened in like 10 years… In the beginning we were here individually and we thought we should use the time to develop ourselves and to develop our own aesthetics and we did for the whole of first year. And then during the pre-collection stage – which you use to turn it into your show collection – we felt confident enough to say that we had tried what we wanted to try on our own and if we wanted to do this together it would have to be now.
On their dynamic…

Marta: We always saw how unbelievably well we worked together – it is insane! But there is more support as two, you can balance with someone else, you can combine two different – two very different! – brains and skillsets. But it’s not just two… There are 18 of us and it’s really the sense of doing it together which is the best way as we get so much input. It’s hard to manage, but once we got it, it was like “Yes!” We all kind of naturally drift towards what we are good at.

Paulo: This is everything I could wish for, so the whole thing is my dream job. The difficult part is the speed of this industry but it is also a good challenge sometimes!

On the design process…


Paulo: Normally me, Marta and our team start with some research like on the internet, in the library, vintage shopping… until something clicks, and then we start the search for who the Marques’Almeida girl of the season is. At this point, Marta tries to explain the girl – and we need to understand this from her – so there’ll be some weird gestures and sounds that lead to words, and we can articulate who the M’A girl is, and after that we eventually get there!

Marta: The good thing about Paulo and I is that we are quite different. I will be obsessed with mood research and Paulo will be doing more product-focused research – like construction, details, materials... And then we put them all together. The mood research is very important for us because it guides us for the season and reminds us why we are doing that collection and why it’s relevant. It’s almost going into this intuitive mode of collecting the imagery and compiling it, and you don’t know why you are doing it but it informs the decisions you are going to make about fabrics and about lengths, etc.
On each other in three words…

Marta: (Describing Paulo) Careful, passionate, and very dedicated.
Paulo: (Describing Marta) Kind, smart, amazing.

On arguing…

Marta: Oh yeah, we argue a lot! We have different skillsets for defining a look, creating the collection, putting on a great show… We are both just as passionate about the creative process so there are always going to be times where I feel like I need to be picky about something or he is going to be picky about another. So we will argue about if for a couple of hours. Working side by side ever since college, we know we are demanding and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. There is always a lot riding on the both of us so there are bound to be arguments about hem lengths or something!

On denim…


Paulo: Denim is something that brings reality to our collection, we love that it’s a day-to-day fabric and that everyone wears it.

Marta: We were obsessed with the idea of the ‘90s; about this idea of an authentic youth wardrobe and the idea of a jeans jacket and jeans and how they transition through the years with you and how they transform. There was just something about it that allowed us to talk about the kind of wardrobe and the kind of fashion that was perhaps a bit new when spoken about in a high-end context. It was a tool to get us to that attitude and that approach. We didn’t get rid of the denim and I don’t know if we will, because it influences everything we do and it’s a signature… Slowly, we let the way we treated denim influence the way we treated other fabrics and we incorporated those possibilities and the same rawness into the collections. It’s so important that it’s there and kind of explains that side of the story and speaks to that side of the girl.
On the ‘90s and how it resonates…

Marta: We never really identified with the glamour side of fashion and the kind of pre-made, worked-up imagery. Fashion for us is much more about doing something authentic for us and our friends and our generation and the people around us and I think the ‘90s were a bit like that as well.

On saying ‘quietly defiant’ a lot and what it means…

Marta: It took us a while to understand that, sometimes you just know these girls and understand why the brand is such a good fit for them. I think there is a sense of rebellion and defiance in what we do. We are never particularly loud or in your face, our proposal came naturally which is where ‘quietly’ comes from.

On an average day…


Marta: We get quiet times and then we get times where we kind of live in the studio – we’ve been trying to get into some kind of routine but if it’s pre-fashion week then we are at the studio 9am to 10pm. If it’s pre-casting then we are in from 8am to 12pm doing hair and make-up. On a normal day we try to do 9am to 7pm or 9am to 8pm, to get home for dinner.
On downtime…

Marta: We have good friends that are not involved in fashion; childhood friends that have moved to London that we hang out with. We hang out, we watch silly movies or silly TV. We go to Portugal quite often as well, a bit for work and a bit to see family and get some sun!

On Hackney…

Marta: We were based West for a long time when we were at Saint Martins and we just felt very isolated. What we like about being East is that our community and our friends are all around and it’s a very natural environment for us. Everyone kind of goes to the same places – not in an annoying way, but in a kind of village-y way.

Our studio is still on Mare Street [East London]. We always try to go out for lunch or dinner when we are working; there are a few places we are obsessed with like Tonkotso on Mare Street, the Japanese restaurant, we have one by our studio and one by our place. We are also very close to London Fields and Broadway market, so we try to go to Broadway market for lunch.
On the next 5 years…

Marta: The past 5 years, Marques’Almeida didn’t really have a master plan. I think we are really lucky that we grew and that we were taken places. We have a lot of stuff that we still want to do, from looking at e-commerce and retail, to the way we speak to our clients and to the collections. We want to do shoes and we want to do bags. There are a lot of things in different sections of the company and the brand that we want to do more of. We want to grow so we can do more of those things basically, that’s the master plan.

Photos by Ronan Mckenzie
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