Once a year, Gibraltar Cultural Services (GCS) puts on a major exhibition open to the public. In the past, this has included events such as the retrospective exhibition about Mario Finlayson and his work in 2015 and the Royal Academicians exhibition (Barbara Rae, Anne Desmet, and Ann Christopher) in summer 2016. The 50th anniversary of the John Mackintosh Hall in 2014, held in JMH, and commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 which was held in Gustavo Bacarisas Gallery were held under the Culture and Heritage Agency, the predecessor to GCS (formed in July 2014).
In 2016, local fashion designer Paul Perez sought the means to hold an exhibition on the late Eduardo Viotto’s work. Library & Artworks Manaker Kimberly Pecino and GCS Head of Events Tanya Santini McClelland approached former GCS CEO Yvette Zarb Bensusan, who latched on to the idea with an aim to expand it to include as many Gibraltarian designers as possible. In March 2017, a press release was issued asking any designers who were interested to come forward for consideration for inclusion in the exhibition.
The designers who formed this innovative exhibition included the late Johnny Pearce, the late Eduardo Viotto, Dorcas Hammond, Priscilla Sacramento, Jane Langdon, Tiana Langdon, Willa Wasquez, Giorann Henshaw, Paul Perez, Gabriella Sardeña, Christel Mifsud Victory (Shorji), and Gail Howard. Clothing items, photographs, newspaper clippings, sketches, video footage, and other miscellaneous items were very kindly loaned to GCS for the purpose of the exhibition from the designers themselves, and from their family and friends. Each contribution was invaluable to the final product.
This exhibition provided a valuable insight for Gibraltarians and tourists alike on the progress of fashion design in Gibraltar; from a closed-frontier situation in the 1970s and 1980s where fabric was very hard to come by, meaning Pearce and Viotto had to struggle to make do with what resources were available to them, right up to the modern-day Runway winners who have many more resources at their disposal, but also much stronger competition on a global and online level.
The opening night was a huge success, featuring a red carpet, cocktail bar, and fashion show exhibiting pieces that we could not fit into the exhibition space. The exhibition had a very positive response, with over 300 visitors in the first three days alone! Mrs Justine Picardo opened the exhibition, which government ministers, members of the opposition and HW Kaiane Aldorino Lopez also attended.
The exhibition was organised chronologically, with each vault curated sensitively to highlight the strengths of each individual designer whilst also ensuring that the exhibition as a whole is as cohesive as possible. The captivating display begins in the first vault with Johnny and Eduardo featuring fashion from the 1970s/1980s, and continues on until the final vault which showcases Runway winners from the 2010s.
Eduardo Viotto (1961-1994) began sketching from the age of just four. His passion for fashion led him to leave school early in pursuit of something more creative. Eddie was involved with a number of local theatre projects whilst working on reception at the Rock Hotel. Eventually, he went on to produce three Miss Gibraltar pageants (1991-1993), even designing winner Karina Hollands’ dress which was worn at the Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Europe pageants. Eventually, he opened a workshop and showroom in Wellington Front in 1989 where he showcased his famously sensual Italian styles.
Johnny Pearce (1946-1987) was considered a pioneer in the fashion world. He has worked with the likes of Norman Hartnell (dressmaker to both the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II) and Nalanie Chellaram, with whom he formed the hugely popular sell-out collection ‘JOANAL’. Together they boasted an exclusive royal clientele.
Dorcas Hammond begun her career in fashion making clothes for her dolls from offcuts from her mother’s curtains. Dorcas began creating exclusive pageant and bridal gowns, winning several designer awards. Among others, she dresses Kaiane Aldorino in her evening gown and Gibraltar national costume. Today, she runs her own fashion design and dressmaking school, Dorcas Fashion Academy.
Priscilla Sacramento sought to combine her love of design with her career as she put on a fashion show for Bijoux, her collection of evening gowns, with all proceeds going to St Martin’s School where she was head teacher. Another string to Priscilla’s bow is her passion for millinery, as demonstrated in her 1977 collection of hats and fascinators, Way Ahead, and 2006 collection of pink turbans for Sonia Golt’s Bosom Buddies Show.
Willa Vasquez, one of the founders of The Fine Arts Association, was born into a family of artists. After studying drawing in Madrid, she produced her first solo exhibition at the tender age of 18. Since then, her work has been shown in London, New York, Cadiz, Marbella, Venice and Gibraltar. After Venice, Willa was inspired by its famous Murano glass, which now influences her work.
Jane Langdon is constantly finding new ways to express her ideas, using her Mediterranean surroundings as inspiration. After completing an art foundation course in Madrid, she moved on to Florence, learning techniques of Italian Renaissance masters before returning to Gibraltar. Today, Jane translates her art into garments while running her studio shop ‘Jane Langdon Designs’.
Tiana Langdon, daughter to Jane, immediately began working with John Galliano after graduating in fashion design (and being awarded the graduate prize for drawing), developing her skills as Senior Textile Designer for Christian Dior. From here, she became a freelance Textile Design Consultant, working for the likes of Roberto Cavalli and Missoni before moving into the creative direction department for ZARA.
Giorann Henshaw, founder of the Gibraltar Arts & Crafts Association, began her career learning to paint on china and porcelain at the age of 17, creating moulds and sculptures and painting dinnerware, thimbles, mugs and limited edition Dorothy Doughty plates. Her time spent helping cousin Dorcas Hammond by painting shoes like the ones for classical ballet extends to today as she continues to paint satin shoes, clothes, and soft furnishings.
Gabriella Sardeña cites her interior designer mother as an early source of inspiration. After working alongside Dorcas Hammond in her studio, she went on to specialise in fashion and textiles in Manchester. Gabriella was the winner of local fashion design competition Runway in 2015, leading to her participation in Brighton Fashion week the following year.
Paul Perez was inspired to take up hand sewing by the close relationship with his grandmother. A local youth project called Forensic Fashion helped him to learn basic pattern cutting skills, after which he went on to complete a course in fashion design. Paul set up his self-named label in 2015, and today works as a teacher as he develops his latest collection.
Christel Mifsud Victory, winner of 2013’s Runway with her label Shorji, opened Gibraltar’s first sportswear boutique in 2015. Self-taught, she has pushed herself to create a range of active wear renowned for its print and bold colours, of which her array of leggings have been the bestselling pieces.
Gail Howard allows her creative instinct to guide her, having never had the opportunity to attend an art and design college. In 2016, she won the Runway New Designer Competition which only increased her enthusiasm. Gail’s latest success involved exhibiting a recent collection in London Fashion Week 2017, which received a high level of media attention.
As expressed by the Minister for Culture Hon. Steven E. Linares MP, “Fashion is an art form in and of itself; the same amount of artistic expression goes into the making of a piece of clothing or accessory as with a painting, poem or song. It is a creative form that should be recognised in its own right, and where better to start than with Gibraltar’s own designers?”