Interview with Carla Pontes, Fashion Designer

By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2016)

Portrait of Carla Pontes (left) and model. Photo by Sal Nuncachov

The conversations she had as a child with her parents, owners of a textile company where the clothes for her brand are produced, sets the tone for her passion in textiles. The equipment design course helped her to think about the objects according to their functionality and sustainability criteria. During her fashion design course she learned how to make an item of clothing, to deconstruct and simplify it in order to turn them into timeless pieces. It is with a sense of Glamour linked to the elimination of excess and immediate pieces, that Carla Pontes[i] chooses to base her life on and transpose textiles into forms of nature. Because nature is still perfect, balanced and timeless. It does not go out of fashion.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): How did your journey as a designer begin? When and how did it start?

Carla Pontes: I graduated in 2008 in equipment design. Then I did the Erasmus in Milan and decided to do more subjects related to Fashion. I came from Milan with the feeling that I wanted to apply my knowledge of equipment design into fashion projects. After finishing my course in equipment design, I decided to start a course in fashion design at Modatex. I wanted to learn how to make a piece in order to simplify it. When I finished this course I started an internship with Nuno Baltazar and I even signed up to the Bloom Portugal Fashion contest. I came 2nd along with John Melo Costa. If I had not participated in the Portugal Fashion Bloom contest, then the brand wouldn’t have probably existed and my course would have been another. I would have been working for other brands or ateliers. Bloom works in an amazing way. It gives excellent visibility to those who want to plunge into fashion design, whether it is to develop a personal project, be it as a springboard to work for other brands. From there I decided to create my own brand and started working in my family’s textile company, Exporgal. I thought that here, I'd work more continuously and invest more in the brand to make it more sustainable.

The Pedra Collection by Carla Pontes/Portugal Fashion and Open Space Office by Tito Mouraz[ii]

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law - WFMFR): When I look at your items I get the feeling that you create on intuition? Am I right?

Carla Pontes: Yes. My collections are very intuitive. The theme is always the biggest challenge, because I have to feel that I’m going down a certain path. For example, the theme for my first collection, "Pedra"(stone) came from a chat at a coffee place with a photographer friend of mine who had been supporting Tito Mouraz in a photo shoot at a quarry. He was very enthusiastic of those days spent at the quarry and began to describe what he saw. That story and his enthusiasm then passed onto me. And that's what made me develop the theme “Pedra” for my first collection. I only got to see those pictures when the clothes had already been made. My friend’s description was so precise that everything was bang on, it even seemed as if I had seen the pictures before the collection, but in reality I was only able to rely on an oral description to make it. From this theme, other collections have emerged. First "Pedra" (stone) after "Bloco" (block) and "Mineral" (mineral). I started with an aerial viewed theme of a quarry, then a vision of a block and finally a micro view of the minerals themselves and their brightness.

The Mineral Collection. Photo: Portugal Fashion  

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Your collections are very much based on natural elements. Why is this? What fascinates you most about these elements?

Carla Pontes: Even whilst studying design equipment I would seek bionic influences to nature. In fact, I look for these elements because I consider them perfect and well-balanced. Nature creates a beautiful shape. Also it is good for the human being. We are so connected to the technological side of things that we forget our connection to nature is a fundamental balance in our lives.

The Pedra Collection. Photo: Portugal Fashion

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Do you have any environmental concerns?

Carla Pontes: Within the production cycle I always try not to waste fabric. I develop my pieces through three-dimensional logic and I think about their profile, just as I did with equipment design. That’s why I don’t often use side seams because the templates remain open and look too big. I try to adapt these templates in order to mesh widths so as to waste less. More often than not there are areas that waste more fabric and so I always try to make use of this waste to make smaller things. I normally use less fabrics and try to use them on my pieces because I believe it makes much more sense to have three fabrics and use them for 10 or 30 pieces. This way it optimises productive work and they become more sustainable. I also try to make pieces that are not limited to just one special occasion but instead used several times. I do fashion design in the sense of figuring out and developing the product, without it coming from a fashionista’s point of view or for consumption. I like fashion but I don’t like “trendy fashion” or fast fashion or the idea of ??immediate consumption that is often associated with an idea of Glamour. This for me has no meaning. Furthermore, I try to incorporate environmental concerns in my collections. For example, the Orbit collection comes from the idea of a bird's eye view; what do birds see from above? Lakes that are drying up and damage caused by mankind to nature as well as the signs of destruction caused by nature such as erupting volcanoes. The fabrics used in coats and dresses serve to engage a person in several ways, in several turns, just like the orbit. I wanted to express the idea of human protection and at the same time this serves as a warning for those to see what is happening to our planet.

The Orbit Collection Photo by Gonçalo M. Catarino

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What fabrics do you use? Where are they from?

Carla Pontes: I use the materials we have developed here in the company, for example knitwear and jacquards, from more technical meshes to others that are more traditional. But as a collection needs other elements, I look for fabrics from Portuguese suppliers. For example, the ‘Montanha’(Mountain) collection had the sponsorship of Riopele[iii].  I worked with their fabrics.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Your brand’s motto is “timeless pieces, regardless of trends or seasonal tastes”. In what aspects of your design, inspiration, your way of producing, of approaching the consumer etc... is this motto reflected in?

Carla Pontes: It is almost a philosophy. I don’t intend on adding the brand onto a drawing or season. I don’t follow trends, nor an immediate or flash idea. I produce pieces that are for today but also for tomorrow. I want the person to use the piece and then re- use it. Not only to buy it for a certain occasion or season. The consumers of my brand are looking for these timelessness pieces. This has to do with nature as well. Nature has timeless forms; it does not go out of fashion. I believe that the pieces which have more polished and simplified forms do not tire in comparison to those that are excessive and discarded.

The Pli Collection/Photo: Portugal Fashion

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Do you think this should be the main motto of the current fashion system when it comes to production, sales and consumption? In your opinion what is wrong with the current fashion system?

Carla Pontes: Competition is huge among brands. Many offer such low prices. How is it possible to offer such prices when the pieces take time to make? And what about the cost of materials? These fast fashion products will not last long, therefore they will create waste in more ways than one. This has to do with the speed of consumption, consumer demand and the brands that respond to and encourage this unbridled consumption. This is definitely not my intention. There is also another side related to the immediate disclosure of clothing pieces to the press that will not be immediately available to the consumer. For example, the Autumn Winter 2016/2017 Mountain collection has already been shown on the catwalk in March 2016 but is not readily available to the consumer. The shows were originally created for buyers, but the press is very present and disclose things that are not immediately available in stores for the consumer. So when these pieces come to the store they’re not new because the collection has already been disclosed to the consumer by the brand, the press and the Internet. The stores are always wanting new collections, so they often don’t buy pieces that have been disclosed long ago. Furthermore, the release of a collection in a fashion week long before it is available to the consumer allows this collection to be copied easily by other brands, which can produce very similar parts immediately, which is ultimately unfair competition. For designers it has been a challenge to figure out what is the best time to communicate their collections. Many brands are already choosing to release their summer collection of 2017 in February 2017 and the Winter 2016/2017 collection in September 2017. It is a communication strategy that shortens the time between the moment when the pieces are disclosed to the press and the moment they arrive in stores. However, there is the difficulty of planning and executing stock. We are trying to avoid stock clearance, so if we work on the basis of orders, we will be able to only produce stock in accordance with what we are asked.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law - WFMFR): What are your major challenges and future aims?

Carla Pontes: Internationalisation. The brand has a family-like structure. I’m the designer and I count on the people who have worked here in my parent’s company, Exporgal, for over 25 years. I also count on my brother who does the paperwork, and deals with the commercial and contacts side of things. We have taken some action in this direction. For example, I went to London Fashion Week with the support of ANJE / Portugal Fashion and the brand is also already present in some stores abroad, particularly in France and England. I would also like to develop social design projects. When I was studying in Milan I worked on a project to create services for a troubled neighborhood. It opened my eyes to a new role in design in which I would like to invest.

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

Carla Pontes: Thank you.