Interview with Carla Alves, designer of AMORPHOUS

By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2016)

Inspiration for the M001 Cesura Collection


In my view, Carla Alves is the philosophical metaphorical fashion designer for the human condition and its problems. At the Oliva Creative Factory in São João da Madeira, we conversed whilst being surrounded by files from her Amorphous brand collections, where dozens of images and frames, works of art, music, work excerpts from Pessoa, Kafka, Flaubert, Lobo Antunes, Gandhi, Luther King and song lyrics from the band Radiohead are part of her inspiration. We talked about Carla’s need to externalise problems that young designers are currently facing. These include precarious work, lack of financial support, their vulnerability to be copied by powerful brands, the expression of individuality through clothing and the need for a timeless fashion creative system in which people and creations are not disposed of. All these problems are mentioned in her creations and messages, defining an ideal between art, philosophy and social intervention. With Carla Alves matter has an essence.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Tell me about your journey as a designer; when and how did it all begin?

Carla Alves: My career as a designer is linked to my need to externalise messages that define an ideal between art, philosophy and social action. My life has always been a sense of questioning the various aspects of society and the human condition. I’ve always had a very close relationship with art. I love illustration and have taken part in several competitions, not only in fashion, but also in contemporary dance, theatre and photography. However, at secondary school, I studied within the area of social action, but I ended up opting for fashion design as a means to materialise my interventional ideas. I studied fashion design in Modatex, Porto for three and a half years. I had always been searching for my inner self. I was getting to know myself and it was then when I realised what I really wanted to pass on to the world. My training in social action at college was very important in this sense because there I discovered that I had to create more than just clothing.

Frames as a source of inspiration for the M001 Cesura Collection, photo by Lígia Carvalho Abreu 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): You won the Portugal Fashion Bloom contest. How did it feel to expose your creations for the first time at a larger event?

Carla Alves: There is a lot of pressure when you are in one of the most important competitions in Portugal. I had to think everything through, from the choice of topic to making a folder because I didn’t want to have any setbacks so early on. Also, if I managed to pass all these stages, then my topic, female genital mutilation, and my philosophy of the brand would be exposed. After winning first prize I was very happy but this happiness is in all respect, inherent to a sense of responsibility.


Drawing from the M001 Cesura Collection presented at Bloom/Portugal Fashion  

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Your collection for this contest has a very strong message against female genital mutilation. Why did you choose this theme?

Carla Alves: Female genital mutilation is a global problem to which we shouldn’t disregard it. We live in a globalised world where social networking brings us closer, although I personally don’t think this is true. People still live in their own little world and don’t think globally about humanity and society. Technology is fantastic in all respect but people have to be able to see, touch, feel and experience things.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Why give the title M001 Cesura for this collection?

Carla Alves: M is for manifesto, 001 is the registration, like a code. Cesura is suturing, incision, but it also means a break or a pause in the line of a verse, the scansion marked by the double vertical line. I found it interesting to use that word because it’s polysemic. The two meanings for me were important when addressing the subject of female genital mutilation.

Manifesto from M001 Cesura Collection

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR):  I can see that for you, clothes have a purpose beyond their functional use or satisfaction of the need for social affirmation or vanity. Do you see fashion as a cultural and artistic expression as well as social intervention? Was this the reason why you created your Amorphous brand?

Carla Alves: Amorphous is a brand that through its messages, it has a link to social action. I intend to touch on issues that are often almost taboo because people are afraid to face reality. People have to be informed, to question themselves. For me, the most important verb is to question. Why does an item of clothing last so little time? Why are items which are made in china or Bangladesh so cheap? Why is it that nowadays everything is so disposable? I think of fashion as something that is not disposable, but instead timeless. On the other hand, because I touch on so many sensitive points like human rights for example, I’m afraid of undermining my position. I don’t mean to say that with this, I will create enemies but I ask you, to what extent do people want to see reality? In the future, I’m thinking of carrying on with the manifestos. Initially, the next Amorphous collection will be linked to the issue of industrialisation versus sustainability or ending the use of animal skin.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): You talk about “everything being disposable”. To what extent can a fashion system, which is governed by this maxim and not a timeless fashion creative idea, be dangerous to young designers?

Carla Alves: It's all too fast. Everything goes out of fashion very quickly in this line of work. We have clothes that are ready- to-wear, couture, resorts, pre -falls, it’s all too much. Designers aren’t given enough time to grow and internalise the collections. It makes no sense to present a collection and be waiting 6 months to finally wear it, nor does it make sense to have collections for each season. We are allowing time for the more powerful brands to copy designs. This is dangerous for young designers, many of whom are not very well-known and are not able to fight back against very strong economic groups.


Drawing from the Komorebi Collection by Carla Alves 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Why the name Amorphous?

Carla Alves: Amorphous is something which has a specific shape. My collections will always come from a manifesto, but which one will it be? Also I wouldn’t want my brand to be associated to just one face because it’s made up of several people who have a commendable job and are equally as important, only that they are behind the scenes. 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law –WFMFR): Are they also the people who make the clothes for your brand?  

Carla Alves:  Yes. I work with the people who I have learned from, even before taking my course. I had to work for two years before I could study. I worked in a clinic, and when I left at 6pm, I would go to a studio until 9pm. It was at that small studio that I started to learn with two sisters. Even today my collection pieces are made at this studio. I also employ local people or else my mother for the embroidery. The coat from the M001 Cesura collection that looks as if it’s made of braids, is done by crochet stitching using a very big needle. It took months to do. It was my mother who pulled threads around the house.

Coat from the M001 Cesura done by crochet stitching. Photo by Ugo Camara/Portugal Fashion 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Carla, you create unique pieces. Are you concerned with the issue of individual expression through clothes?

Carla Alves:  Yes. There are people who think they are being different when purchasing more and more products just to have a new style every month or even every week. They are buying a lifestyle, which often enough doesn’t correspond to the people they are. They should look for products or philosophies of life that identify with them. Someone once said " the day you know yourself will be the best or the worst day of your life." I think people are extremely afraid of when that day will come, this is why it’s so difficult to dive into our inner selves and question ourselves. I think it's a lot easier to be the same as the person next to us instead of looking for our own individuality in a world that offers us so many things to be more than just our own being.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Where can we buy your clothes?

Carla Alves: At Scar ID, Porto[i]. I also work for individuals at the studio.[ii]

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Your creative process is very much associated to the discovery of the human condition and its problems, as well as a symbiosis between art and philosophy. Apart from M001 Cesura what other collections have you developed this way?

Carla Alves: I developed a collection called Komorebi. Komorebi is a Japanese word that has no translation in any other language. It symbolises the phenomenon of sunlight that passes through tree foliage, covering the soil with a blanket of light, shadows of abstract shapes and flowing silhouettes, all disfigured and mutable. Komorebi is the exaltation of the complex human metaphor being in light of the inexplicable and its existence.  In order to explore the most shapeless and complex side of the human being I decided to relate this phenomenon to the works of Sophie Khan[iii]. This artist captures the essential features of the human body with its imperfections through 3D laser technology and later, printing. Her sculptures are defragmented, they are unretouched physical and emotional portraits of a person at a given time. With the collection, Komorebi wanted to create an almost philosophical metaphor of our facets as human beings, the way we look at the reflection of our existence as being fragile, banal, and an unstable picture constantly trying to balance between a light and dark surface.

Drawing from the Komorebi Collection by Carla Alves 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): What materials do you use? Where do they come from? Do you have any environmental concerns?

Carla Alves: My clothes do not come from animals but instead they are of Portuguese origin. I saw a very interesting conversation between Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney about this subject. Stella McCartney was being interviewed and was defending the non-use of animal skins. Vivienne Westwood at one point asked Stella "So you're telling me to use polyesters instead of animal skins?" The production of polyester is very polluting. Stella McCartney said something, which I also feel "it is impossible not to have flaws." I try to break away from these existing flaws but it’s impossible not to have them. I use polyester, but that ultimately pollutes 70% less than animal skins. There are people who die from cancer while having skin treatment. However, if we use natural products, such as organic cotton, this would be better. For the M001 Cesura collection I used thread to pass on the idea of suturing, the physical and aesthetic idea of mutilation. I also used the Boro technique. This technique was first used by Japanese farmers as a way to wear their kimonos. Since they didn’t have any economic means to buy new kimonos, they would sew the multiple layers of fabric (rags) and embroider them using this technique so that the kimonos were like new.

The Boro technique on a coat from the M001 Cesura. Photo by Ugo Camara/Portugal Fashion 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): What are your greatest challenges and future desires?

Carla Alves: We have the best innovations in Portugal but they are not accessible to everyone or they are only available to industries and for that you must have economic power, which is not my case. What can I do differently to stand out? I think this is the greatest challenge for a young designer who is starting out. I tried to look at what I could do differently. I don’t have any access to the best innovations in materials and production. Many people turn away because we don’t have economic power or a strong brand structure. So the topics and messages which I touch on and the philosophy of the brand are what differentiate my work from other designers. I feel fortunate to be presenting my collection at Portugal Fashion. But I know that I need financial support. Another one of my ambitions is to get my message out there because I believe that with these messages my work can contribute to a world that is more awakening to certain realities.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): What type of support do you have? What would be important to change or where is it important to invest in order to give more visibility to young designers?

Carla Alves: Portugal Fashioniii gives me visibility. However, I know designers who have presented their collections at Bloom, Portugal Fashion, have had to stop presenting because they no longer had the capital to invest in their own collections. It’s important to have further support in sales structures as well as financial support so as to develop and produce collections. Furthermore, I’m also concerned with the working conditions that some young designers are subjected to. I know of situations where economic groups take advantage of young designers, by paying them miserable wages that are not enough to live on. In other cases, companies take advantage of state grants for traineeships and at the end of this contract people are removed. Often they do not have working contracts. People subject themselves to these conditions and don’t know to what extent it undermines their dignity. There should be an association to defend designers because in this fashion industry, there are a lot of precarious jobs.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Thank you Carla for this interview. 

Carla Alves: Thank you.