This film of Marques Almeida’s models striding breezily through the sea off the northern Atlantic coast of Portugal might give a misleading impression. This wasn’t yet another stop in the long trail of outdoor fashion spectaculars that have airlifted the fashion caravan all over the map this summer. For this, no one traveled very far. There was no front row of celebrities, influencers, and editors fanning themselves in the July heat. Marta Marques and Paolo Almeida stage their shows in Portugal because it’s where they live.
Marques explained how much time and how many people were involved with pulling off this sea-show scenario in the town of Viana do Castelo on the north Atlantic coast—not a one-off event, but a tussle with the tides filmed at the exact point when their models appear to be walking on water, using a sea wall as a runway. “We spent weekends there, studying the tides, asking local people’s advice, and practicing, which meant twice a day for 20 minutes when the sea’s at the right level,” she laughed.
They chose the place for many reasons—to them, it’s an ideal, ocean-facing symbol of the vibrant Portuguese cultural energies that are manifested in the 46 look collection: multi-textiled “psychedelic” patchworks, a giant rag-coat of many colors, a straw hat as big as a canopy, cobwebby knits, and maxi-shirts billowing out over their signature wide, slouchy jeans. “Viana do Castelo is a small-ish town, but with a lot of craft tradition, and it has a very supportive local council with a woman leader in charge of arts events.”
This summer’s collection—it’s launching on the Marques Almeida e-commerce site tomorrow—was another adventure in one of the long-term missions they’ve set themselves: “to empower creative communities and preserve ancestral knowledge; to make sure that artisanal techniques do not disappear over time, and are celebrated and regenerated to extend their presence in our modern lives.”
Their spectacular show-pieces are commissions from five artisans and artists who they’re spotlighting on their website as Marques Almeida M’AKERS—women who use recycled and found materials as a matter of traditional practice. The multi-colored chubby was woven by Fatima Ferreira, a traditional rug-maker who works next door to the designers’ home in Porto. “She sources scraps from nearby textile factories, and makes them on a wooden loom her grandmother taught her to use.”
The couple discovered yet more inspiring collaborators on a trip to the Azores, a spectacular Portuguese volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic, a two-hour flight from the mainland. Aldevina Serpa, from Terceira Island, a practitioner of traditional Azorean “crazy patchwork” made them wildly colorful asymmetric, rhythmically-patterned pieces to tailor into tops and dresses. Sónia Bárbara, who was born in Mozambique, and moved to Terceira to teach visual arts, contributed the patchworked hats. “She promotes collaborative methods to keep the traditional textile handcrafts alive through cooperative and intergenerational work.” On Sao Miguel Island, they found Sofia Afonso, a certified artisan who created incredibly delicate embroideries made in the passed-down Azorean technique of working with fish-scales and limpet shells.
Since the couple repatriated themselves from London to their home country during the pandemic, their work has become ever more rooted in localism, craft, and the practical application of their sustainable goals. The immediacy of their clothes resonates with that energy. Their recognizable pants, sloppy sweaters, and cool cargo pants are all now orchestrated from upcycled materials, sourced without the involvement of fossil-fuel derivatives, and moving towards the use of organic dyestuffs. “We’re learning all the time; this gives us incredible joy; we couldn’t be happier.”