A five year interlude dedicated exclusively to teaching gave Maria Gambina the space for her passion for creation to be revived. She has now returned to participate in the Portugal Fashion calendar. “Searching for the perfect MG — F/W20–21” is the title of her most recent collection which reinforces the identity of the reborn homonymous brand. Graphic, fun and relaxed, Maria Gambina portrays a contemporary restlessness through unexpected details.
Two key factors are behind the decision to channel her creativity back into her designer brand: the growing support of the textile and clothing industry and her confidence in the new tools that fashion brands to communicate quickly and successfully.
Recycled knits, denims and sustainable materials, all with innovative finishing techniques, are the trademark of this new collection by the Portuguese designer. The highlights of orange, royal blue and white stand out against the base palette of black, navy blue and camel. The classic bomber jacket, trucker jacket, trench coat and duffle coat are deconstructed and reinvented with an urban aesthetic, timeless and free of any gender bias.
Maria Gambina’s shop/atelier in the Foz district of Porto has some of the pieces from the collections that have marked her return: “Construção”, the S/S2019 collection, “Nancy”, F/W2019–20, and “Gambina FC”, from S/S2020. Two key factors are behind the decision to channel her creativity back into her designer brand: the growing support of the textile and clothing industry and her confidence in the new tools that fashion brands to communicate quickly and successfully.
A pioneer name in Portuguese fashion, Maria Gambina created her brand in 1993 after receiving the Sangue Novo award at ModaLisboa and has participated in numerous projects for brands, companies and other institutions. Since 1994, she has lectured at CITEX (now Modatex), CENATEX and the Escola de Moda do Porto — Porto Fashion School.
Over the last eight years, she coordinated and taught the Fashion Design course at ESAD (School of Arts and Design of Matosinhos), where she mentored such designers as Nuno Baltazar, Katty Xiomara, Paulo Cravo, Ricardo Andrez, Inês Torcato, David Catalán, Tânia Nicole, Olimpia Davide, Beatriz Bettencourt, Joana Braga, Rita Sá and Gonçalo Peixoto.
I don’t feel that I am constraining myself now or that there is no space for spontaneity or experimentation, but I do feel that I finally know what my path is. I want the Maria Gambina brand to be my business and the most important thing is the final product.
Although this is not a comeback collection it still surprises many in the business. What are the reasons for returning now?
MG: Pure passion. Over the years that I dedicated to teaching, I had an average of 30 students per year. That is equivalent to 150 collections to which I have passionately directed and dedicated myself. Over time, I came to the conclusion that this passion should be directed towards my brand again. I feel that we now have the proper tools to promote brands efficiently and there is, finally, growing support from the industry, which also helped me make this decision.
Some people from the new generation aren’t familiar with your career as a designer during the 90s and part of the 2000s when the tools for communication that we have today didn’t exist. Do you feel the need to bring back pieces from that time?
MG: I do not feel the need to show what I have done in the past, although I regret that there is no proper record of what everyone has done. I remember that on the ModaLisboa website there used to be an archive, which could be filtered by designer, but it has disappeared. I’m sorry that the new generation doesn't know who Francisco Pontes, João Tomé, Osvaldo Martins, Lena Aires, Paulo Cássio were, or what Nuno Baltazar created when he was pairing with Paulo Cravo, or what was presented by the winners of the Sangue Novo contest… It’s a shame people don’t have access to the evolution of Portuguese designers.
The fact that I’ve donated my entire collection to MUDE — Museum of Design and Fashion, forced me to review all my past collections and this process was extremely important to understand my brand’s DNA. Looking back now, perhaps this was the push I needed to come back. I realised that there was still room for Maria Gambina. I realised what it meant when people said, “I don’t need to look at the label to know it's one of your pieces”. I realised that it wasn’t about my formula, but really about my identity.
It was also very important for me and for this process to have reexamined collections that I did in the past. I am a completely different person now and can’t see myself in those collections at all. Some of the work was tired or even trying to show how ‘modern’ I was. I still cannot fully understand what I was going through back then, whether it was insecurity or wanting to stop being associated with a label. The truth is that I’ve looked back at some of my collections like “Old School”, “Music is My Life”, “One Blue Moment”, “The Dark Side of Délicatesse” and I can still identify myself in the work, whereas with others, especially during the last years, it seemed more like Maria Gambina wanting to show how creative and conceptual she was.
No doubt reviewing old projects helps me solidify the brand’s DNA, not to stray from my path and not to repeat past mistakes. I don’t feel that I am constraining myself now or that there is no space for spontaneity or experimentation, but I do feel that I finally know what my path is. I want the Maria Gambina brand to be my business and the most important thing is the final product.
Are your interests and influences still the same? What has changed?
MG: Yes, they are. Nothing has changed. Maybe just the amount of inspiration I’m getting these days — which is immense — and perhaps a certain new contemporary restlessness.
I’ve learned not to make leaps in the dark, but rather walk with one foot in front of the other. At this moment, I only promote my brand abroad through social media.
In Portugal, when we talk about independent design, we end up talking about niche markets. Your work and your audience were intimately related to music, club culture, design and the visual arts. Is this the same audience for the brand today?
MG: I believe that my audience has always been connected with a certain mentality other than just professional areas. When my store reopened in November 2019, I became sure of it: my audience is people who are always looking for different but practical products, who value design, detail, quality and contemporary materials. They don’t really follow the trends. They are looking for timeless pieces. It is a very conscious audience with a strong personality.
Portugal is a small country, for the brand to survive you have to export. How do you promote your brand internationally?
MG: I’ve learned not to make leaps in the dark, but rather walk with one foot in front of the other. At this moment, I only promote my brand abroad through social media.
I work with Portuguese fabrics, because they are the ones I like the most and, to put it simply, the best fabrics. I’ve entrusted the manufacturing to a group of women who believe in me and whose work has never let me down.
Sustainability is the focus of many new brands that have emerged in recent time. Is this also one of your brand’s targets?
MG: I am very fortunate to be partnering with Tintex, Troficolor and Lemar who work with that mentality. I have never been a fundamentalist or a trend follower, but in this case, I believe that this has to be our collective mission.
I know you work with fabrics from Portuguese producers. Did you choose them because of the proximity and availability, or because they are what you actually need? What about manufacturing?
MG: I work with Portuguese fabrics, because they are the ones I like the most and, to put it simply, the best fabrics. I’ve entrusted the manufacturing to a group of women who believe in me and whose work has never let me down.
What advice would you give to the various entrepreneurs who may be reading this interview?
MG: Nowadays, the textile industry has a vision, but unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the clothing industry. The textile industry supports designers, especially young designers and this ends up bringing new creative approaches to their products, whereas clothing companies are unreachable and unreasonable, they demand impossible minimums and decline new approaches to the manufacturing and finishing techniques. I won’t be giving any opinions or advice, but I must ask: where is that paradise that I read about in so many articles, the one where the industry supports small brands of international designers, producing their samples in Portugal? Where are you paradise?!
Like in a cake recipe, you have to have all the right ingredients or the cake will not rise.
You have spent a lot of time teaching fashion, particularly at CITEX, ESAD and also at EMP/Gudi. Which kinds of students receive your highest marks?
MG: My top marks were always given to students who are complete. Like in a cake recipe, you have to have all the right ingredients or the cake will not rise.
Surely you have influenced them, but how have they influenced you?
MG: I think the biggest influence they gave me has been that I’ve started applying the process that I taught them to my own projects. I always worked in a very intuitive way. I would envision something in my head and then start to draw. But because not everyone is able to visualise the product right away in their head, you have to teach the process of creation, so that they get there, step by step. I wondered if my collections wouldn’t benefit if I started following this process too. These days, I try not to focus on my first mental sketch, but to explore and do a lot of research before starting.
What advice do you have for a young designer reading this interview?
MG: It’s not at all easy. But it’s exciting! ♥
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