I should let you know now; I don’t profess to have any knowledge on the workings of the ever-evolving world of fashion. I do, however, enjoy clothes; particularly being able to exert my personality through my own unique style. I love sifting through racks of garments in retail stores and planning well in advance what to wear to any one social gathering. I love pairing items of clothing I’ve never thought to put together before. Most of all, I love finding quirky androgynous winter shoes to couple with cute tights and simple skirts or dresses.
This month, I attended my first Runway Gibraltar event. Now in its fourth year, the fashion show has matured and really grown into its own skin. Each year, they welcome the return of certain familiar faces; producer Shideh Olafsson, who also heads a very successful modelling agency in Australia, and has a keen eye for up and coming cat walkers, her partner Naomi Quigley, who has been at the helm of the show since the beginning, and some of their truly dedicated backstage helpers. Each year also sees the forging of new relationships, welcoming new faces to Gibraltar’s only fashion event of this scale and professionalism.
Newfound fashion links
The weekend commences with the pre-Runway press event at La Sala, aboard the Sunborn. As someone who has no real links to the fashion world, after a couple of glasses of cava, I’ve made all the local contacts I need. It seems that the fashion world is not as vapid and callous as it is stereotypically painted to be. My first acknowledgement of this followed my meeting with the adorable Danish designer, Signe who appeared on the scene after having completed design school in Marbella. Her line for the show comprised of clean, minimalistic pieces, very true to her Scandinavian roots. ‘Under the sun here, they tend to wear a lot of colours, it’s a lot more feminine than in Denmark, where it is a lot more conservative or even boring when it comes to clothing.’ The show is such an eclectic diversity of styles and concepts, from Signe’s smart and comfortable sweater and trouser combinations, to the explosion of femininity in London based celebrity dresser, Natalia Kaut’s selection of jumpsuits and dresses. Men’s fashion needs are also catered for, thanks to Stewart Richard Grays’ partnership with Ray Henry Randall, and their offering of luxury and sustainable sportswear and accessories.
Let us not forget the local offering. All three of the New Designer finalists reveal the impressive capacity for local talent. Winner Gail Howard’s range can only be described as flurry of colours, patterns, textures and hairpieces, all fitting together to portray some of the women in Gail’s life that have had the biggest impact on her. The collection is dubbed Adventures of Life and is inspired by five women that have had ‘a huge impact in my life. That’s why the pieces are all different. I thought about each person and textures, personalities and who they are.’ Gail, a Bank Cashier by day, described the process as wholly professional. ‘I was so lucky with the models! As they came along, I saw which suited which outfit. The model wearing the leg warmers, she’s a gymnast and she rocked the outfit. Everything looked really natural on them.’ As the winner, Gail will exhibit her work at a private function during London Fashion Week in February 2017. ‘I’m going to have so much fun! I’m still in shock. I did enter to win, but I didn’t expect I was going to. This is just my passion, but maybe it’s time to start thinking about doing it more.’ Reflecting on her keenness for the industry, she tells me, ‘I used to watch Fashion Week all the time. I love it and it’s so natural to me. Years went by and I did nothing about it except make clothes for myself. I always come to watch Runway because it’s organised really well and it’s so fun. My friends have pushed me into competing before, but this year something told me to just give it a shot. It’s what I really love.’ Looking back on the run up to the event she admits, ‘It’s been hard work for six weeks, not stopping and sleeping very little, but always with a smile on my face, and so worth it!’
Competition judges, Matthew Dowling, owner of major UK fashion network The Freelancer Club, and Maine Philippou, a head fashion stylist in Australia described Gibraltar as ‘a hugely energetic and thriving place to start to design and to source fashion.’ Both boast formidable backgrounds in fashion, Matthew’s in photography, production and publishing and Maine’s in design and styling. Impressed by our offering, the two set their sights on ‘unique design, great finishing, and to see whether the designs are workable in London, and then farther afield in Milan and New York.’ Between the two of them, they aimed to seek out a collection that was both brilliant in design, and marketable. ‘This is my first time in Gibraltar; it’s a great little place. I can’t really compare it to anywhere I’ve ever been,’ Maine expresses. ‘I’m a big fan. As soon as you walk off the plane and see that Rock, that’s a pretty amazing backdrop,’ Matthew adds. He recounts a casting he held at the top of the Rock last year with other local designers. ‘You can feel the London influence, but I think there is also a little bit of an edge happening here, they’re inspired more by the colour, the weather, the sea than the clouds and the dreariness of London. It’s something unique that you guys are definitely cultivating and should be proud of,’ Matthew remarks, taking note of our own individual sense of style.
A taste of international style
The second category, showcasing the work of better-established local designers was kicked off with last year’s New Designer winner Gabriella Sardeña’s freshest and flirtiest collection yet. Ribbons, feathers and a medley of other quirky textures dominated the line. ‘I feel like I’ve matured quite a bit,’ she tells me, ‘it’s still very flirty, very girly and quite fun but it’s a lot more dramatic, quite sexual. There is a lot more sheerness, but it’s still very me, and feminine. It’s a bit daring. I’ve grown up so much in a year.’ Her pieces were met with a resounding applause by the Runway audience. Following her success last year, she has spent time studying at Central St. Martin’s, working towards her Masters degree. ‘Being a textile designer, I’ve spent the whole year not doing clothing, but working on fabrics and details, particularly focusing on embroidery and print.’ She tells me that a year has given her more confidence in showcasing her designs. ‘I do still get a bit shy about showcasing my work because I get so into it that I’m scared of what people might think or say.’ She praises the annual show for showing off local talent and being ‘the only fashion showcase in Gibraltar.’ She adds, ‘it gives opportunities to designers to see what’s out there, as a stepping-stone to see what’s in the future. I feel like it’s not only about clothing, it involves a lot of other people like make-up artists and photographers. Runway helped me find the local scene in fashion and gain new contacts, both here and in Brighton. It helped me have a broader awareness of what other people are up to.’ Looking into the immediate future, her aim is not to start her own line, ‘I’m more focused towards a career in high fashion, I’m not ready to have my own brand just yet, it’s something you have to invest a lot of money into and really be focused. At the moment, my aim is to be the head textile designer at a company, work my way up and make contacts.’ Following Gabriella is local label Blingage, a daring fusion of Indian and British influences, showcasing its line for the first time. Poonam Rupani, at the helm of the collection, launches an impressive haul of dresses and two-piece outfits, all super colourful and with very a delicate and flattering Indian edge. The colours exude high fashion summer attire.
Finally, towards the end of the show, I’m offered a visual insight into Signe’s collection. As she promised, we are graced with clean, monochromatic, comfortable pieces, paired with the simplest, yet most effective make-up and hair looks. ‘My market is not in Denmark,’ Signe comments, as we chat about the scene in Scandinavia and the significant rise in fast fashion establishments like H&M, which is a smash hit all around Europe. ‘I’ve brought quite a few garments from my upcoming winter collection. This is the first public viewing of the collection to be released in September. I design things that I would personally like to wear. Not using many colours goes hand in hand with using organic materials. We use only natural dyes. It’s very honest all the way through.’ Offering advice to young, eager fashionistas, Signe urges budding designers to believe in their own vision and stray outside the box. ‘I’ll tell them to keep sustainability in mind because really it’s the future of fashion.’ Her mantra is to remain ethical and push green fashion. ‘The fashion industry is polluting, this is a new wave.’
Showcasing their newest line internationally, the traditionally preppy and British range Grays London by Stewart Grays has merged with Ray Henry Randall to produce a ‘more relaxed line, incorporating feminine cuts to accentuate the male form’. G4Sport is a collection of wearable sports attire for the modern man who works and goes to the gym and wants the transition in attire to remain classy and high end. ‘Men now love to show of their physique, and why not, if you’ve got the confidence and are proud of who you are. Our clothes enhance the person’s own confidence,’ the pair express, clearly beaming over their new range. ‘It’s sport leisure wear, for the gym or for lounging around on a yacht, or to wear to a beach club.’ The flagship Grays London line is ‘more tailored and heritage inspired. It’s directed towards your man who is 28 years plus, who is professional, proud of his appearance and has disposable income.’ Enjoying their time on the Rock, the designing duo informs me that their line is now available in Gibraltar, at a boutique in the Upper Town. ‘Gibraltar has a very diverse community and they definitely benefit from having the Grays collection here, they’re sporty and their lifestyle, set by the beach and sailing, definitely suits G4.’
As the show winds down, and models strut back into the organised mess that is the backstage, the audience salutes the producers for yet another fantastically fun and well-orchestrated show. Now gaining much more international exposure, Runway is certainly moving forward in the world of fashion. NM