Arturo Obegero perfectly embodies the 21st century designer. Or at least, he meets all the requirements that society seems to demand from those who will be the next big names in fashion. An advocate of craftmanship, respectful of tradition and self-confessed lover of Cristóbal Balenciaga and his own hometown, Tapia de Casariego, he works from leftover fabrics from haute couture. His new collection, Puro Teatro, marked his debut at Paris Fashion Week Menswear, made from velvet curtains from theatres around the world, firmly committed to sustainability.
His collection appeared in the official Paris Fashion Week calendar, sat between Loewe and Hermès. Quite the challenge for a young designer to sit alongside such big names, Arturo successfully rose to the challenge. He made his complete collection (and the video that accompanies it) in just 15 days. In Arturo’s theatrical creative universe art, history and today’s turbulent times converge. "Designers are becoming entertainers and sometimes it seems that a selfie counts more than all the hard work behind", he says, praising the discretion of master Balenciaga, one of his greatest references.
He speaks proudly of his roots and the young talent in his country. “I do believe there is a new wave of young Spanish designers coming really strong, promoting our culture and craftmanship”. Meanwhile, he works hard aware that effort and dedication is a prerequisite for success. He searches the soul of fashion, getting away from passing trends and knowing perfectly what his goal is. "I want to create unique and exclusive pieces that people can treasure forever."
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From Tapia de Casariego, a small town in Asturias of just over four thousand inhabitants, to studying at Central Saint Martins in London. And not forgetting Paris, where you have just presented your new collection. Where do you answer us from? Do you think you have found your final destination?
I answer you from my little apartment/studio in Montreuil, where I live with my partner. My final destination, that’s a complicated one; I have a few places in mind where I would love to live, even though it doesn’t seem like the most realistic thing at the moment. In the future I see myself living in the countryside, definitely next to the sea, maybe back in my beautiful hometown, who knows. But I do miss nature and I would love to set up my atelier in a place like that, and then just come to Paris for the shows.
It was always clear to you that you would end up dedicating yourself to what you liked, and your time at Lanvin once graduated encouraged you to start your namesake label. When did you make the decision and when did you materialize it? Did you feel ready enough to embark on your own business?
I made the decision when my time at Lanvin was coming to an end and I wasn’t feeling like working for any other brand. I always knew I wanted to do my own project, especially after graduating from the MA at Central Saint Martins in London, where everything is about your vision and direction. I don’t think you are ever ready enough to start your own business, especially when you do it all by yourself. It’s been tough and stressful, but it has also been an amazing learning experience (I am still learning every day) and I can’t complain about my situation after just launching 9 months ago. I’m grateful and truly excited about the future!
Bohemian, maritime and with a marked poetic sensibility, you grew up closely connected to nature, in a family you refer to as "matriarchal". When you think about your childhood, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
I think of freedom, sea and love. I’m lucky to call Tapia my home; it’s a place with beauty in every corner. You have the most insane sunsets with every imaginable colour during summer, but with the arrival of winter, its beauty becomes darker with the massive waves crashing against the black rocks. It will always be a source of inspiration to me. Another thing that comes to my mind is the honesty of the people living there; there are no ulterior motives. It’s a great place to grow up. And of course my family. I love my family, and even though we are all so different, we couldn’t be closer to each other.
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In your second collection, Academia, you pay homage to the world of dance, present in your imaginary from your beginnings. In Academia you imagine a company performing from five ballet classics - Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky or El amor brujo by Manuel de Falla, among others. What message did you want to send through this collection?
More than a message I wanted to pay homage to the brilliant artists behind these performances. The level of study, sacrifice and dedication is insane, and the final outcome couldn’t be more beautiful. That’s what I want to convey with my clothes. I want people to feel like those dancers, to have the poise, to be proud, seductive, free and empowered by their emotions.
Bringing up all those acclaimed works, characters and scenes, entails a huge challenge, and expectations are inevitably raised. Have you felt pressure to be up to it?
I didn’t feel pressure at all apart from the pressure and expectations I put on myself.
You joined the official Paris Fashion Week calendar with your Fall / Winter 2021 collection, Puro Teatro. Quite an achievement for a young designer. "It's the culmination of my emotions and a reflection on the fashion industry," you said of your collection. What can you tell us about this reflection on the industry?
It’s a reflection of how I felt during the last 9 months as a young designer creating during the current tumultuous times. Reality is overcoming fantasy. It seems like we are always on stage on a constant performance with everything that’s happening politically, with a global pandemic, and also with the state of industry. I just feel that, due to social media, we are getting too used to consuming fashion so quickly, swiping up collection after collection. I miss soul and substance. There is also a constant hunger for applause and validation. Designers are becoming entertainers and sometimes it seems that a selfie counts more that all the hard work behind.
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You compare life to a velvet prison, the main fabric of Puro Teatro, which comes from old curtains collected from theatres around the world, from Sydney to London. What can you tell us about your creative process? What has been the greatest challenge?
Yes, they all come from velvet curtains, some of them from theatres unfortunately closing due to the current situation. Which I think already makes a statement. I wanted to reflect the idea of being in a constant performance with an element that is so intrinsically related to that world and my aesthetic. I also found it really interesting how these curtains have so many stories behind them. They receive the best and the worst from the crowds, from the most cheerful applause to the angriest booing. At the same time, they share the stage with the most talented artists in the world, witnessing those long hours of hard work and dedication. I find it really romantic to be able to wear something so unique, and with so many emotions attached to their fibers. Regarding the creative process, I always jump straight to the pattern table, as I love to cut. Something that I had in mind from the beginning was that I wanted this collection to convey a strong message. It’s the reason why I created volumes that reference fashion clichés such as a couture bow. Bows are perceived as refined and delicate, but the way it’s applied, it covers your mouth, goes around your neck and even constrains your movements. The contrast of this soft and luxurious material with the sharp silhouettes around the body, work as the “velvet prison”, as a reflection of how I felt during the last few months. The biggest challenge was to make everything (collection, video, etc.) in 15 days. Never again!
This isn’t the first time you show in Paris. In March 2020, you unveiled your collection in a fashion show at Instituto Cervantes, days before chaos broke out in Europe. What would you highlight from this experience?
It was a great yet stressful moment, to be honest. It is really hard to make a presentation with no budget, but it taught me a lot of things to improve for the future and nevertheless we all had a lot of fun! The highlight was definitely at the end of it, when I saw my mum and my brother amongst the crowd and I immediately went there to hug them.
In addition to theatre, dance or poetry, you have shown a significant interest in Spanish culture. Flamenco, bullfighting and your family -which you refer to as a fundamental pillar in your life- make an appearance, projected from a contemporary nostalgic perspective. What aspects of folklore do you preserve in your creations? And which ones do you discard?
I think you can see it mostly in our silhouettes. Especially in our Palmira permanent collection that is available in our online boutique. Our Gades high waisted trousers, named after my favourite flamenco dancer, Antonio Gades. Our Boris cropped jacket, also inspired by the traditional toreador attire. And our couture gloves. I think there is a Spanish essence attached to everything I make, not only in the cuts but also in the romanticism. I never discard anything. For example, I never liked ruffles, but now after giving them my twist, I’m learning to accept them. It’s all about adding your perspective and experimenting.
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Cristóbal Balenciaga is once again present in Puro Teatro, in the form of volumes, silhouettes and structures. "A couturier must be an architect for plans, a sculptor for shapes, an artist for colour, a musician for harmony and a philosopher for the sense of proportion", he used to say. What does he mean to you?
We both come from small fishing towns from northern Spain, so to me he was an example to follow. If he could make it to Paris and become the greatest couturier ever, why not me? He was truly a master. The way he cut, the way he referenced so many concepts at the same time but always with such an elegant and minimal approach. Genius. Something that I also love about him is that he was tremendously discreet, never screaming for attention, always letting the work speak for itself.
In what other characters, eras or places do you find inspiration?
I always find this question really hard to answer. I know this answer sounds ambiguous, but I do really look at everything. Sometimes I have a reference from the Spanish court during the XVII century, alongside other eras such as the ‘20s, ‘50s or ‘70s, and maybe collaged with a piece from a contemporary artist or gestures from dancers. It could really be anything. The important thing to me is to merge all the inspirations, focusing on their essences and translating them into my minimal approach.
Black and white is very characteristic of you, both in the garments and in the brand image communicated through social networks. Does this decision respond to an exercise in essence reduction?
To me the colour black is like flamenco, it can narrate from the most beautiful expression of happiness to the most miserable expression of sorrow. It’s the colour of poetry. Black centers all the attention in the soul, cut and the silhouette: elements that are fundamental to me.
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I feel you are calling into question what gender means through your work. How do you understand gender in fashion? Are we facing a real blurring of borders?
To be honest I don’t really think of it while I’m designing. I think there’s a lot of marketing around “genderless/unisex”. Sometimes we create these new labels and we put people in new boxes, when the original idea was to actually to run away from them. Sometimes I make pieces that are specifically constructed for a man’s or a woman’s body, but at the end of the day, I just make clothes that hopefully people love and make them feel great.
You work with leftover fabrics from haute couture houses, thus reducing the impact on the planet while keeping the quality of fabrics. Where do these fabrics come from and what is the process like?
They all come from a Parisian store where they get all the rolls left from couture Maisons. We have also been recently selected in a new upcycling programme by LVMH where they sell their old fabrics to young designers. Being responsible with my work was a no brainer, and if I’m honest, I don’t want it to be the main focus of the work. To me it’s just being conscious of what’s going on. It’s our responsibility. I’m also not interested in mass production. I want to create unique and exclusive pieces that people can treasure forever.
In Nordeste, unveiled last November in digital format, we see reminiscences of the Asturian pipers’ traditional costume - and the golden age of couture. Do you feel more connected to your roots now than ever?
Of course. I am proud of my hometown, my roots and my family, and I want to show the world their beauty. I want to do it like one of my heroes, Cristóbal Balenciaga did, focusing on the silhouette and the essence of these references.
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What is the image of Spanish fashion outside our borders?
I think it’s great. We have amazing houses that are still strong such as Balenciaga, Loewe, etc. And I do believe there is a new wave of young Spanish designers coming along really strong, promoting our culture and craftmanship.
The pandemic has forced us to think about our way of living. What conclusions have you drawn? What are your next goals?
I think we all needed to take time to slow down, to think, to do nothing and to disconnect, even though now it is getting too long. My most important goal is to enjoy the moment. Sometimes ambition can blind you and it is good to remember that at the end of the day, what matters is to give and receive love. On a more business side, I’m looking forward to growing organically, responsibly and always with a positive attitude!
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