The designer Manuel Fernández (Barcelona, 60 years old) fulfilled one of his dreams in the year 2000, in his debut at New York Fashion Week. “It was either New York or Paris, but my goal was to walk outside of Spain,” recalls the couturier on a sunny September morning in the living room of his Madrid apartment. The ROOTS collection became the international launch of this promising designer, a contemporary of Sybilla and Josep Font, who was his duo in his early days on the Gaudí catwalk. And Fernández, who would become the first Spanish creator in this prestigious international event, brought his entire stylistic arsenal to the New York catwalk, where Martina Klein, Nieves Álvarez, Marian Reyes and Lucía Hoyos walked the catwalk for him, among other great Spanish models. of the moment, with fringe appliqués on the high boots, in a clear homage to the manila shawl, long embroidered leather gloves, Gatsby-style hats and embroidered diplomatic cloth on masculine suits.
That fantasy had been forged since her first years of life, among fabrics, dresses and remnants from her mother Lola’s workshop, a bespoke dressmaker in Benidorm, who gave her the best advice and also the essential condition to be able to study. and get into fashion. “She told me that if I wanted to go to Barcelona to study design, she had to learn pattern making,” recalls Fernández. Today, almost 40 years after completing Higher Education in Fashion Design and Industrial Pattern Making at the Escuela Guerrero in Barcelona, having walked the runway up to five times in New York and founding his Fashion Art Institute —with which he seeks to encourage interaction between artists plastics and fashion design—, receives the Aguja Brillante 2022 award in Valencia. The award is given by the Guild of Craftsmen of Tailors and Dressmakers CV for his career and “his determined commitment to fashion and sustainability”, as described in the statement official. “It is an honor to receive it after so many great names that precede me”, alludes the designer about the previous winners, creators such as Elio Berhanyer, Francis Montesinos, Lorenzo Caprile and Roberto Diz.
That pattern making that he learned and says he has never been passionate about, it was essential for him to open his first business in 1983, a clothing store in Barcelona for his brand Trazos —”I was the pattern maker there,” he admits laughing—, and it has also helped him to promote other projects that came after the catwalk seasons in Cibeles and New York, a whirlwind that, he confesses, stopped entertaining and appealing. “It no longer occurs to me to make custom-made clothes, except for some special cases, such as a wardrobe for me. sister Loles Leon. I am in other stories, much more conceptual projects. For me now it is essential that something has a reason behind it ”, reflects Fernández.
And one of those reasons, essential for Manuel, is the defense of sustainability from within the second most polluting industry, after aeronautics. “The biggest problem is ourselves, buying very cheap clothes like crazy. We must raise awareness, first of all, as consumers. We have to be more responsible, but buying well is just as important as knowing how to recycle”, explains Fernández.
The designer defends the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) from the Fashion Art Institute, an organization he founded in 1998, where he transforms second-hand garments into new creations, for which he uses old scraps or materials such as recycled tires and other reusable elements, and from where he asks plastic artists to intervene with their brushes. Artists such as the late Valencian painter Juan Genovés or the Mexican muralist Guillermo Ceniceros have passed through his canvases.
One of Fernández’s last proposals was for a collection of kimono robes, pieces halfway between the bata de cola and the kimono, which represented the 17 SDGs and in which Japanese and Spanish artists captured their talent in these particular canvases that Fernández designed. The sample could be seen for the first time at the beginning of 2022 at the Antiquarium, an archaeological museum in the basement of the Metropol Parasol in Seville and is currently on display at the Kobe Fashion Museum (Japan). She is now preparing a new show in the same style but with Moroccan women artists and with the djellaba as a backdrop.
“It’s wonderful to see how the new generations buy more second-hand, and they don’t just do it for money, but out of conviction,” stresses the creator. A conviction of the new generations that for Fernández has also been linked to social commitment; This is the other reason that moves the creator that has led him to get involved in sewing workshops for women in social exclusion in the Seville neighborhood of Tres Mil Viviendas, in alliance with the Alalá Foundation and with a final parade included and Elena de Borbón as a guest special; with 13 inmates from Alcalá Meco who reinterpreted costumes donated by Loles León, Pastora Vega or Rosario Flores, among others; or with women ex-victims of trafficking from the Association for the Prevention, Reinsertion and Care of Prostituted Women (APRAMP), or from the armed conflict in Colombia.
A solidarity collaboration that of Fernández that has spread with more than twenty associations that the designer finds wherever he travels with his fashion exhibitions. “On September 11, 2001 at 12 we had an appointment with the director general of the Guggenheim Museum in New York to show him the dossier from our Fashion Art Institute collection, but you can imagine that we were never able to celebrate it”, recalls Fernández, alluding to the coincidence of that appointment with the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers that paralyzed the city and left him trapped there until one more week, two days after his parade. “I don’t know if in the end it was better or worse that that meeting was not held, because it is true that it took me two years until I was able to have my first exhibition in Argentina, at the National Museum of Fine Arts, but if I had not done it there, I don’t think all the doors in Latin America would have opened for me,” he admits.
Since he exhibited for the first time in the National Museum of Fine Arts (Argentina) in 2003, a show that could be enjoyed for six months and visited by more than 350,000 people, he traveled to Colombia, Chile, as well as Puerto Rico, where in 2015 he held a first workshop with 12 high-risk inmates —accompanied by 24 guards, she recalls— from the San Juan prison. “It was great to see them design their own creations with a piece of paper and pencil lying on the floor of a museum, taking inspiration from the collection we brought there. When we finished the session, they all excitedly asked me what they had to do to be a designer”, recalls the creator excitedly, who admits that it was an experience that marked her. “Similar to the duration of the workshop, which is usually a few days or weeks, there is not time for intense pattern-making training or to delve into the details of the design, but it does encourage these women to empower themselves, to see the world otherwise,” he reflects.
A world in which technology is already a key element in the world of fashion. Fernández, who is about to open a sustainability and recycling school in Montenegro, is also immersed in the creative process of generating a virtual collection in the metaverse, with the collaboration of the company Avatalents, entitled Flamenco Girls. “This opportunity came to me without looking for it, as it has almost always happened to me. And I wanted to take advantage of it. What is clear to me is that you cannot be left behind, ”she argues.
In that not being left behind, he still treasures a dream to fulfill, which is none other than having his own museum with all his collections and pieces of fashion and art, which would become the physical headquarters of his Fashion Art Institute project. “I have achieved everything I wanted and I do not regret all the steps I have taken to become someone different. And, above all, what I don’t want is to stop having fun”. Having fun like that boy who played with the scraps in his mother’s workshop and like that man who stepped on the New York catwalk for the first time.
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