2019 was the year that saw the rise of one of the most curious and unpredictable collaborations in the Portuguese fashion landscape. Decenio and Alexandra Moura, industry and high fashion, team up to do justice to the meaning of collaboration. Archives have been rediscovered and energies have been renewed in favour of a classic image that isn’t afraid to be questioned (or turned inside out).
The last time we spoke was at the end of 2017. What’s come your way since then?
ALEXANDRA MOURA Several collaborations, some transitions and a change of workspace. One of the biggest events since 2017 was probably the move into a new studio in Xabregas. We started having more projects, so it was inevitable to find a bigger space and grow the team. We also had some upgrades with the arrival of two industrial sewing machines, and a cutting table that allows us to simultaneously work on pattern cutting, prototyping and even fabric cutting; this way we’re able to have a greater control over prototype development and the process flows more organically.
As for collaborations, highlights were the image work we developed with artists such as Dino D’Santiago, Mayra Andrade, Imogen Heap or Branko, and the Sumol collaboration.
The transition from London to Milan was also very important, and marked a new phase in the growth of the brand. We haven’t changed the way we work at all, however, to be part of the official Milan calendar made us feel a different weight of responsibility and expectation on our shoulders. Following this evolution, we also changed showrooms and are now working with Other/Wise — the brand grew, so we have sought to position ourselves alongside more established and mature projects, but who have a similar language. It is something that it’s happening right now, and that we’re experiencing for the first time.
To give us an introduction and some context, what is Decenio Mediterrano? How have things evolved? What has remained and what has been left behind?
DM Decenio Mediterrano is a classic brand, in the modern sense of the word. Establishing a bridge between contemporary design and textile innovation, the brand presents itself as a marriage of technology and tradition. We believe the classic has roots not only in the past but also in the future; that is why every piece is designed to last a lifetime, throughout the seasons, and defining tomorrow’s traditions. But none of this would be possible without thinking in a long-term and sustainable way. As a brand we have taken on this responsibility towards the planet and humanity, opting wherever possible to use fabrics with an ecologically responsible origin, an ethical management of human resources, and constant improvement. The DNA of Decenio stays the same, it just appears renewed, original and youthful.
There was a great desire to create “energy” for Decenio; we want to elevate the brand to the next level, and the task was to help the market understand our identity. The wish to reinvent and adapt put us on a path of experimentation and the first stage of this has resulted in this exclusive collection.
I would also say more tuned-in and present in the digital world. What strategies have you found to communicate this new era to your clients?
DM Decenio is a largely recognisable brand and the connection with its consumers is rooted in the quality and traditional range of products. However, its definition remained vague, which made the emotional connection with customers difficult. It’s not enough for our clients to understand that we have the best quality. We needed meaning, and a great brand needs to have meaning in people’s lives.
The world revolves around talent, we believe that the beauty of the digital universe lies in access to a wide range of talent and people from various spheres. This gives us the opportunity to work with different professional structures in building the brand’s image, and that has been our main strategy.
How did the desire to collaborate with a fashion designer come about?
DM There was a great desire to create “energy” for Decenio; we want to elevate the brand to the next level, and the task was to help the market understand our identity. The wish to reinvent and adapt put us on a path of experimentation and the first stage of this has resulted in this exclusive collection. We felt that Alexandra’s urban DNA would play an essential role in this new language and interpretation of the Decenio codes. Thanks to her more conceptual and disruptive side, it was possible to reinterpret classical pieces, to merge romantic with sport, the classic with the urban, and the sophisticated with the underground. The Decenio x Alexandra Moura collaboration marks the beginning of this mission to inject vitality and uniqueness.
Alexandra, when did you receive this invitation from Decenio?
AM Decenio’s invite came to us in July, when we were already developing the next collection for Milan. The suggestion in itself was a great surprise, but I was equally surprised by the brand’s genuine approach; Decenio recognises its origin and position in the industry, but it also showed us the desire to achieve new goals and to engage in dialogue with a new audience… There would be absolute creative freedom and there would be no commercial concerns, which made the entire offer very attractive, and it eased some early apprehensions.
DM If we had limited Alexandra’s creativity, this certainly wouldn’t have worked. It made no sense for us to interfere. We only had contact with the collection on the day of the ModaLisboa presentation and although we were a little bit scared, we knew that it was essential to trust her work.
After the first contact, how did everything unfold?
AM August was the month when things started to move, so that we could start developing in early September. Despite the initial panic, the amount of freedom and the absence of a guiding theme, I had to immediately start thinking of the path to take — in a single month we had to work quickly on this collaboration and our Milan show, but we also had our other projects happening, which couldn’t be interrupted, so we divided up the team like never before to be able to finish everything on time.
I started by working on the concept: my research always goes back to the origin of everything, even if the motto is the future, first I will have to go through its genesis. The birth of Decenio, its foundations, and what sustains it as a brand and communication. Then we have the Mediterranean back drop, which is one of the main values of the brand; countries, people, culture, and this mixture of “dolce far niente” with a bohemian feeling, but also sophisticated and somewhat decadent…
In terms of raw materials, our research happened in Decenio’s archive, as this too is part of the brand’s history. We were able to save resources while making a statement with the use of dead-stock that was archived, but ready to use. The colour pallet and final fabric selection grew from there, based on a classic mood ready to be de-constructed and manipulated.
Next came the sketches. The coats were designed based on classic pieces from the brand’s archive. These icons were reinterpreted and the result takes the form of de-constructed pieces, cut, draped or turned inside out. The t-shirt that represents this collaboration also appears, created from a photograph taken two years ago. I loved it for its curious conceptualism, with the blue tones and graphic feel. I realised it was the right time to use it, not only on the t-shirt, but also in a design that culminated in total looks, a way of breaking away from the traditional patterns of the brand and signalling a renewed approach.
From the moment we started working on the pattern cutting, the show arrived in Milan; amid final touches and show chaos, the team continued to develop and work for the ModaLisboa presentation day. Once back in Portugal, we finished the last pieces and went into styling, accessories, hair and make-up; we wanted a look fresh out of the pool, like a Martini commercial. Dripping, but gorgeous.
Tell me about the ice block “situation”
AM It all started with an article by Miguel Esteves Cardoso about the ice industry; we began to cook up some ideas in our head, and at the same time we sent an offer to Decenio. We basically told them, “If we’re going big, we’re going with a bang! Ice has to be a part of the show scenography”. To create a connection with the capsule’s more graphic elements, we decided to freeze sun hats, placed on blocks along the runway. The last touches started coming together, and among the sun hats, wet hair and seashells for necklaces that I could only find in Figueira da Foz the idea of the frozen bags was born, symbolising the legacy and the rupture of the classic.
Did you find any interesting surprises when you went through Decenio’s archive?
AM The monograms. They have great potential thanks to their versatility: it can be used in a conceptual look as well as in a more sport or street universe. They were without a doubt one of the great passions of this project, to the point we used the lining fabrics on the outside of dresses, pants, shirts or jackets. From a distance, the pieces seem “plain”, but upon a closer look, you can see a monogram of the Greek numeral ten in jacquard.
What other elements of the Decenio brand did you feel were important to bring to this capsule?
AM The jackets and blazers — their presence was essential because when I think of a brand like Decenio, I think of a formal universe. But that universe was already more than conquered, so the mission was to convey something younger and more urban. The image of a blazer with jeans or a pair of sneakers is very present in everybody’s visual culture, so the tailoring work was very important, as well as showing their insides — from the interlining, padding, to the basting… we worked so that all the interior was visible, because it was so beautiful.
What were the favourites the Alexandra Moura side?
AM A more airy and oversized silhouette. Ideas like the reinterpretation of feminine and masculine. The absence of gender. Manipulation and deconstruction. And the inversion of values of the pieces and their details.
I identify a lot with the ethical side and the consideration for the client. Although we don’t share the same scale and dimension, the concerns and values are very similar. I felt mutual respect through this experience, we were aware of each other’s place, and everyone’s importance.
What do Decenio’s codes have in common with your brand?
AM I identify a lot with the ethical side and the consideration for the client. Although we don’t share the same scale and dimension, the concerns and values are very similar. I felt mutual respect through this experience, we were aware of each other’s place, and everyone’s importance.
Aesthetically speaking, I can see myself on the more classic side of the brand. When I want to research the classic, I always go in search of the canons and the genuine thing. And Decenio knows how to work the classic, they know how to build it well. The moment we took the blazers apart was a joy, I just wanted to literally turn them inside out. The blazer proved to be much more than just an iconic symbol of the brand; it is also a top example of quality and construction.
Considering that this collaboration joins two universes and stories, who is the collection aimed at?
DM We want to reach out to a new generation of consumers. It’s not hard to understand why premium brands want to win over younger audiences: by 2025, according to studies we all know, 45% of the high-fashion and luxury industry will be composed of GenZ and Millennials. In 2019, those same generations were responsible for much of the growth in this market. However, luxury is no longer a synonym for exclusivity and high prices, but accessibility, genuine value and belonging. Without those elements, sensationalism and lack of cultural credibility won’t be enough to attract young buyers in the future.
Alexandra, do you believe that this collection, proving the power of collaboration, will allow more similar projects to take place in the near future?
AM I think it’s still early, but I hope so. I understand that the big brands and the industry can’t give up the large quantities, but I think that for several reasons, the collaborative environment can introduce niche thinking, non-massification and a more thoughtful product. In the end, both parties gain a new sense of what it means to work in fashion as they trade knowledge and tools with each other. These types of fusions are important to build strength, not only for the industry, which revitalises its creativity, but also for independent brands who benefit from visibility, marketing and communication. Synergies achieve what would not be possible separately.
Synergies achieve what would not be possible separately.
DM The collaboration was very important to us as a strategy. It enabled us not only to strengthen our image and reach out to a more conceptual and creative side of fashion, but also to support Alexandra and the challenges of an independent designer’s work.
Decenio has opened the door to an unprecedented work model in the Portuguese landscape: the collaboration and complete joining of forces of a designer and high fashion. Do you intend to continue?
DM Yes, we’re developing some projects, which are still to be announced. But we can say that the future of Decenio isn’t only about working with a fashion audience. We want to become increasingly more interesting and multifaceted.♥
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