It’s early evening as we’re walking into the majestic entrance halls of Alfândega. Above us, elevated ceilings and exceptionally wide staircases that seem unlikely to ever have been used to its full potential. But one thing is for certain: history is present. Built between 1860 and 1870, the halls were originally constructed as part of a customhouse, but this evening, they’re decorated with exotic plants, chandeliers and an endless dinner table. It almost seems that tonight is about more than a fashion show of young emerging designers, it’s about a celebration of tradition – and a proud one at that.
Portugal has long been known for its skilled craftsmanship in the textile and clothing industries with much of the production coming from the northern regions surrounding the city of Porto. Although the demand for ‘Made in Portugal’ had a down-rise in Europe with the introduction of the euro in 2002 – changing the costs of labour –, big fabric factories such as Riopele (1927) have continued to show their level of quality, know-how and sustainable vision.
ModaPortugal started as an initiative with the hopes of bridging the future talents of the fashion world today with the quality of the Portuguese textile productions. Designed by CENIT, ANINEC and partnering with both APICCAPS and ModaLisboa, each year, twenty-nine fashion design students from the most prestigious fashion schools in Europe are invited to present their best designs in front of an international jury.
Starting with the United Kingdom, the list of schools ranges from Germany to Spain, France, Italy and, of course, Portugal, each allowing three designers to showcase three looks from their final graduate collection. The schools represented were the London College of Fashion (UK), ESMOD (FR), IED Madrid (Spain), Polimoda (Italy), AMD – Akademie Mode & Design (Germany), and three Portuguese institutions: Modatex Porto, Fa.Ulisboa and ESAD. And the categories? Best Overall Collection and Best Overall Footwear Collection (both are awarded a prize of five thousand euros) along with one winner from each country in each main category.
Speaking to one of the jury members, Gemma A. Williams (UK), writer and consultant, it seemed natural that the overall winner selected should be Zhikai Yang from ESMOD (FR). Not only did his collection present a profound understanding in craftsmanship, he also re-interpreted tradition, drawing from his Chinese heritage to produce “wearable garments that speak to innovative and fresh iterations of cross-cultures and globalized design. His act of smoking the garments was the poetic realization of the power of memory and the transformative nature of clothing.”