In Gibraltar, it is relatively common to suffer serious small town syndrome. Many of us aspire to bigger, further reaching goals than we are able to achieve on our little Rock. Where we are extraordinarily lucky is in the opportunities we often find ourselves faced with. Thanks to their own lucky breaks, two of the Rock’s savviest fashionistas found themselves showcasing their own designs as part of February’s London Fashion Week 2017.
Bank cashier Gail Howard and student Gabriella Sardeña saw their first bout of success in Gibraltar’s leading annual fashion event Runway, having both won the New Designer competition at the former two events. Fast-forward six months from last year’s show, our August 2016 cover star darts around a dainty and beautifully embellished room, stood bang in the centre of the City of London in the arresting Gibraltar House building. Gail sports a shorter, sharper haircut and an incredibly on pointe outfit exhibiting exactly how her style has matured since she first dipped her toes into the fashion industry pool. Her contribution to the ‘London Fashion Showcase With a Difference’ event invites press, fashion bloggers, VIPs, and London based Llanito friends into an almost behind the scenes insight into Gail’s designing world.
The room brings together an eclectic mishmash of 35 of her most cherished pieces, along with thumping dance music, scattered make-up and jewellery, and a clique of statuesque models effortlessly parading her more embellished and high-end designs. ‘This is exactly what my wardrobe is like, it’s all mad.’ She shows us around the ornate room, which she compares to the manic scene of any girl’s bedroom as they get ready for a night out. When we last spoke to Gail at her first ever showcase, she was overwhelmed by the experience, her catwalk pieces reflected the personalities and ethos of five women in her life that inspired her. This time around, you can see how her skill has developed; she has dabbled with myriad materials, textures, cuts and ornate detailing. ‘It’s called the G collection and it’s about Gibraltar. I was powerwalking back at home, trying to get inspired when I thought, “if this is in Gibraltar House, why not bring together everything I see”. I don’t have a set style; the clothes represent all of our different cultures, our surroundings, with my twist of style in it. It’s quite personal because I want people to know who I really am,’ Gail tells me.
The acutely professional pamphlet that accompanies her collection reveals that most of the materials used were sourced and collected both locally and from surrounding Spanish towns. ‘I believe fashion is all about colours and textures.’ The booklet was put together with the help of local photographer Jayden Fa, who is known for his distinct fashion shots. ‘Getting a good photographer is very important, it’s almost as though you can feel or touch the fabric in the photos. Choosing and directing the models is another thing I’ve learnt is very important, as well as make-up and hair.’
The showcase, put together by Freelancer Club founder Matt Dowling, offered an insight into the worlds of four freelance designers, fresh into the industry. Elelcie, Stella Courtney and Maria Bustillos exhibited their eclectic collections in their own unique spaces within the Gibraltar House building. ‘At events like this our members actually get the opportunity to meet each other,’ Matt explains, taking a brief moment to hide away from the day’s busyness. ‘The big satisfaction for us is to see them shaking hands and then go back to the website to post the work they’ve done together.’ The website offers membership to creative freelancers in their first six months to ten years of work. Out of 80 applicants that express a desire to display their work at LFSWAD, the four that made the cut all share an inspiring personal story. ‘The whole idea is ‘designers with a story to tell’. The Runway experience was the catalyst for it actually. Gail’s story made a massive impact in why we chose her. There is a good artistic grounding to her work and you’ll see that with the rest of the designers here.’
Each creative concept that the designers showcased was coined overnight, after they first visited their exhibition spaces. Matt tells us that some very exciting members of the press have passed through the event over the course of the day, and as evening falls, we begin to notice the statuesque Georgian house being overtaken by Gibraltarians. ‘We’ve tried to utilise contemporary as well as old school media,’ Matt says of the invitees, ‘we have a pretty meaty database of industry press and personal contacts. MTV are here for instance, and a name like that makes an impact.’ He beams that this is quite likely to be the first ever fashion event to take place in a government embassy.
Interestingly, we spot one particularly familiar governmental face in the crowd that gathers on the terrace after the showcasing, to the dulcet tones of home-grown boy band Frontiers. ‘What are you doing here?’ The Chief Minister asks me, perhaps surprised to see some of the faces that have gathered. ‘A bit of everything,’ I tell him as he’s swept away to mingle. At this point, Gail is swamped with greetings of congratulations, in between orchestrating photo opportunities, directing her models, offering insights to interested invitees and managing her very supportive and helpful family members. ‘To have Gail in a space like this, with a solo show, and then to bring in the collective opens up the idea of more press and more exposure,’ Matt insists.
A proud Gibraltarian, Gail tells us that her next move is to take her new collection home and show it on the Rock. ‘Then, I want to design and sell. My website has just launched. I really want a boutique in Gib, and to be able to design at the same time. I want to bring the glam back and to offer a variety of all types. I want ladies to come in and want to buy things. All designs would be personal and nobody else would have it. We need to have that in Gibraltar because it is heart breaking for women to go out and find someone wearing the same dress.’
Her fashion workload has progressed hugely since Runway, as well as getting ready for this showcase, Gail has designed outfits for local photographers and the 2016 inaugural edition of Gibraltar’s Next Top Model. Through all of her work, Gail expresses that her biggest lesson learnt is that there is no room for mistakes. ‘I’ve made them, and you just can’t go there.’ ‘So, in terms of fashion designers and current trends, who are your favourites, and biggest inspirations?’ I probe, keen to hear her favourite high end brands. ‘I’m quite loyal’, she says, ‘I love Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and I used to love Gianni Versace, his stuff was so wild and crazy and he was such an extravert.’
Masters student Gabriella Sardeña draws her biggest inspirations from artists, pop up exhibition and personalities. Now into the last few weeks of her Central Saint Martins fashion course, Gabriella looks back on her London Fashion week showcase as a manic blur that will forever stand out in her fashion lifetime. ‘It was so nerve-racking to begin with, and then it’s over and it’s almost underwhelming for a split second, until you realise how well it went.’
Taking me through her work, Gabriella’s design process seems a lot more technical. ‘I’m studying textiles for fashion. There’re four categories within the course, women’s wear, men’s wear, textiles and knitwear. To begin with, it’s all materials, it’s all about mixing things, I use a lot of bizarre stuff like tape and cassettes and bin liners. It’s a lot of movement, like what you want to feel, and what’s eye-catching. After that, at the start of the term, I had to take into consideration the fashion elements, including the woman who would wear my clothes. Is she glam, sophisticated, sexy? I created this woman who is quite similar to my inner self, like an exaggerated version of me.’ Very much like Gail, she is keen to put across her personality in her work, albeit a slightly hidden side of her. ‘I really enjoy personalities! I feel like people are so different on the outside to what they’re like on the inside. I feel like people’s characters are really exciting and fun, and can be linked to art and creativity.’
Her fashion week collection is geared towards her final grade, which she hopes will push her towards a job in the industry. ‘We had four or five weeks to put it together,’ she says of her collection. ‘Once the shells were constructed, it was all about embroidering and making the designs bigger and bolder and sparklier.’
Gabriella first cut her teeth on the catwalk at Runway 2015, with her candy central concept. The fun, girly pieces won her the title of ‘new designer’ and afforded the opportunity to display her work at Brighton Fashion Week. Her 2016 offering for the Gibraltar show was, as described by fashion-rookie-me in the August 2016 issue of the magazine, ‘ribbons, feathers and a medley of other quirky textures.’ More than six months on, her pieces are even more adult and sultry, as if her designs have matured alongside her, from flirty teenage fun, to vibrant, adult and daring. ‘Both collections have been a very good representation of who I was at the time. I’m more focused on the specific areas I want to work on now. I’ve pushed the textiles to a completely new level.’
Gabriella speaks about her work with much more confidence now, with a lot of genuine excitement in it. ‘The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is time management and confidence. A lot of self-doubt is very personal and the more I get involved in and the more people I speak to, the more I feel like I have a future in this. In the beginning, it seemed a bit unrealistic and far away. The more experience I get, the more I see the career potential, which is really exciting,’ she beams. Long-term, her ambitions extend to working for a fashion house. ‘Maybe Marc Jacobs, something high-end because I want to stay really creative to keep developing ideas, and produce really lovely fabrics without any fame and hustle and bustle of having your own name. It’s more fun, but when you work in commercial fashion it’s all about the money and I’m not about that. I don’t want my own brand just yet. I still lack experience and contacts, there are so many things you need to know to get started.’
Gabriella’s fashion week collection joined the work of 15 other student designers, carefully plucked from the 38 on her course. As the only female textile student to take part, she insists she wasn’t certain she would enter. ‘At the beginning, the course was very difficult and I was pretty invisible. I wasn’t one of the favourites. Towards the end, I crept up and started to become better known. I remember Sarah Mower, one of the editors of Vogue came in to the studio, saw my stuff and recognised me. She was really into my work and after that, the tutors got a bit more engaged and pushed me to really try for the show.’
The collection’s central inspiration was drawn from a Danish artist Tal R, whose art is comprised of youthful collages ridden with colour and obscurity. ‘That was such a good starting point, interpreting it into fabric and textures. He works a lot with sexualism and how people are perceived. I’m constantly going to exhibitions for inspiration, that’s the beauty of London, there is so much going on.’
The news of Gabriella’s success travelled across the Gibraltarian masses quickly, despite her keeping it under wraps. ‘I published it on Facebook for anyone who wanted to watch the live stream, and all of sudden, on Monday I got all these calls and it was picked up by the news.’ Equally, the support for Gail’s showcase was immense, with quite possibly every Gibraltarian based in London passing through her exhibition throughout the day to offer their support. High off of her fashion coup, like Gail, Gabriella plans her next move to be showcasing her work in Gibraltar. Both agree that it is an extremely underappreciated industry at home with so much untapped talent, but with their growing wealth of knowledge and experience, budding fashionistas on the Rock can look to them as proof that they have as much, if not more, opportunity as anyone else.
words | Nicole Macedo
Gail’s photos| Cathrin Rajalehto Gabriella’s photos | Aroa Isabella Nunez