Alongside behind the scenes pictures of AW16 by muse and show model Ronan McKenzie, Marta Marques discusses teenage riot grrls and embracing streetwear
Never underestimate the creative power of a teenage girl alone in her bedroom. “I think that’s what we wanted to be the driving force behind the collection,” explains Marta Marques, reflecting on the ethos behind her and design partner Paulo Almeida’s AW16 outing. “I was watching a documentary on Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill and the riot grrl movement. It’s empowering, these girls creating albums and stuff from their rooms...you can mark your existence, build an identity.”
Debuted in London on Tuesday, the collection saw Marques’Almeida delve into raver neons and play with proportion – channeling the nostalgia of supersize puffa jackets, skater-wide JNCO style jeans and corset tops. There was a strong sense of DIY, as if these girls had put together and customised their clothes themselves, adding feathers and other accoutrements.
For those familiar with M’A, this point of reference won’t come as a huge surprise. Although renowned for their instantly recognisable (and almost as instantly ripped off) frayed denim, for the last five years they’ve been creating clothes that demand to be defined by a mentality rather than a couple of over-simplified descriptors. And despite citing reference points that have included Corinne Day shooting Rosemary Ferguson for The Face and Larry Clark’s seminal film Kids, their clothes aren’t about reliving the sartorial highlights of Tumblr’s most reblog-ready decade. “The whole 90s thing that’s been attached to what we’ve been doing since the beginning...” says Marques, “it’s more like an ethos than something visual.”
“It’s empowering, these teenage girls creating albums and stuff from their rooms...you can mark your existence, build an identity” – Marta Marques
That ethos is the same as the one that saw the decade reject glamazon supermodels to embrace rough around the edges waifs, and witnessed independent magazines usher in a new wave of creative talent who were set on doing things their own way. It was grit over gloss, realism over fantasy – something that’s central to the Marques’Almeida world. “The glamorisation of fashion never really spoke to us,” explains Marques. “But a hoodie or a teenager speaks volumes. We have always been interested in this idea of realism...you should never wrap a model up in so much high fashion that you can’t see her anymore.”
This season that realism found its footing in quite a literal way on the catwalk, where the casting was comprised of a mixture of models and non-professional muses – girls who the designers know and admire. One such face was photographer Ronan McKenzie, whose work was the subject of a recent exhibition at Dalston’s Doomed Gallery and who captured a diary of the show for the gallery above. “It all ties into this idea of girls making and creating things, putting things out there,” explained Marques of the casting. “We might even let them rummage through the rails and figure out what they want to wear!” It’s something that extends into their recent venture into e-commerce, where the designers have livened up the usually sterile world of digital retail into a place to put the focus on muses like Ronan to tell stories – rather than simply sell products.
This realism extends to the clothes, of course, especially regarding the designers’ embrace of the (currently rather maligned) term ‘streetwear’ to describe their output. “There is nothing we feel that is inappropriate about that,” Marques asserts. “The collection started with going back to a lot of the things that we used to look at in the beginning that had to with really strange streetwear. Really returning to staples like a hoodie and a t-shirt and oversized trousers and big jumpers… I spent quite a lot of the time buying 5XL hoodies on eBay and things like that!”
“We have always been interested in this idea of realism...you should never wrap a model up in so much high fashion that you can’t see her anymore”
This season, the designers were afforded the rarest luxury in fashion: time. After winning the €300,000 LVMH prize last year, the duo expanded their team from about three to thirteen, meaning that Marques and Almeida could really zero-in on what’s most important – designing. The extra time and attention to detail was clear in the collection – as evidenced by pieces like the slip-on mules, lined with fur and with heels that were shaped into the designers’ initials. “I think that’s one of things that’s hopefully going to come out of this collection – that we were able to do more by having the financial means to do it,” says Marques. Still, the focus remains on authenticity rather than commerciality. “We want to do more because we have so many ideas...But that doesn’t necessarily mean that our concern is to sell more. The selling part is important, but it doesn’t cross our minds really until after the show.”
Too often, the teenage girl is defined through the gaze of others – she’s a paradoxical muse, an object of desire surrounded by American Beauty rose petals rather than a thinking, speaking person. Otherwise, she’s a demographic, someone to be pandered and marketed to. That’s never been truer than it is today, where the rise of mainstream contemporary feminism has seen everything from trainers to WiFi use girl power to sell. While M’A will certainly shift this collection in tonnes, you get the sense that that’s not really what it’s about for them – they care more about empowering those who inspire them, and those who wear their clothes. In Marques’Almeida’s world, the girl muse doesn’t exist to sit around and look pretty – she’s got work to do.