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Exclusive interview: Luís Buchinho


Portuguese designer Luís Buchinho, who celebrated his 25th anniversary in the fashion industry in 2015, enjoys an illustrious career, as Sally McIlhone discovers

Sally McIlhone ,

Although Luís Buchinho’s items may be difficult to come by outside of his home country, in Portugal the designer is a celebrated talent. A regular at ModaLisboa fashion week and Portugal Fashion, and winner of two FashionTV Portugal awards for Designer of the Year, this year Luís Buchinho celebrates 25 years in the industry, no small feat in a climate where fast fashion and a focus on the new prevail.

Top draw
Buchinho’s love of fashion grew from a passion for drawing in his youth. ‘I thought I was going to be a cartoonist or something similar,’ he explains. ‘In the early 1980s, with the rise of pop video clips, I started noticing fashion in pop bands and loving it. Then I met a girlfriend who was a real fashion victim and had lots of magazines such as Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire, and it became clear that it was something I wanted to do.’ His early drawings were noticed by his art teacher. ‘She saw an ad for a fashion design school in Porto, and encouraged me to make an application. I was accepted at 16, and I moved from my home town of Setúbal to Porto.’

Buchinho’s latest collection, Comics, is inspired by this early passion for pop culture and art. It features futuristic monochrome coats with boxy patterns, mini-dresses in a patchwork of tactile fabrics, and a variety of geometric knitwear, creating a vision of forward-thinking, ultra-contemporary style. ‘The collection was inspired by my early years when I was crazy about comic books as a kid. The main concept around the collection was the way, as in comic books, you can tell a story graphically.’

Novel knits
This passion for graphic patterns, especially in knitwear, can be traced back through Buchinho’s collections to one of his first jobs. He began his career in 1990 as a knitwear designer for the Jotex brand, and worked there for 19 years, so knitwear has been part of his design process ever since, he explains. ‘It sharpened my eye for colour combinations in a way that I believe wouldn’t happen with other techniques. When you design knitwear, you think of something simple that can have several textures or colours in the same surface – a principle that I use for the rest of the collection, even for the non-knitted items.’

Applying innovative techniques used in knitwear to other items has seen Buchinho become a master of mixing and matching textures to stunning effect. Combining leather panels with knits and mohair details to create coats and cropped jumpers, the designer showcases his range of skills, craftsmanship and confidence in his finely honed aesthetic.

Roaring retrospective
Celebrating the 25-year milestone in his career has given the designer the opportunity to reflect on how far he has come. ‘The good thing about these anniversaries is that you are almost forced to look at the past and make a retrospective about your own signature,’ Buchinho observes. ‘My essence was there – a sense of a pragmatic femininity, with a masculine twist. My collections were softer, more candid. With time, it developed to [suit] a stronger woman. Of course I always particularly love the show pieces, where you are at your freest.’

Training new talent
As well as working on his catwalk collections, Buchinho also teaches fashion design at the Modatex professional training centre in Porto, passing on his experience to the next generation of Portuguese talent. ‘You get involved with the younger generation, which is something I consider very important for a designer,’ he explains. ‘I try to shape them only in terms of being good professionals, exigent in their technique, and I take the term designer very seriously.’

Buchinho ensures that his students take an approach to design that is as exacting as his own, in order to shape designers who will go on to have career paths as fulfilling as the one he follows. This is not, however, to say that he is prescriptive. ‘There is one thing I don’t shape at all – their individuality,’ he says. ‘I try to make them see themselves as unique, with a message of their own, and make emotional collections that are related to their experiences as a person. For me, that is what makes you have a signature.’ His own signature – the blending of diverse fabrics in garments to create truly eye-catching items – has been a clear success that will continue to entrance fashion fans.

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