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Portugal Fashion celebrates 20 years of fresh talent


The Portugal Fashion catwalk event is responsible for launching the careers of some of the country’s greatest designers, and has helped showcase their clothing on the world stage. We look back at 20 stellar years

Sally McIlhone,

In the ever-changing world of fashion, when a catwalk event celebrates 20 years of existence it’s a sign that its output is of the highest quality. Portugal Fashion is one such show, and has been fostering spectacular design talent for two decades.

Bright beginnings
The first Portugal Fashion event took place in 1995, featuring supermodels Elle Macpherson and Helena Christensen and showcasing the work of now established designers such as Nuno Gama and José António Tenente. ‘The event was the idea of the board of ANJE [the Associação Nacional de Jovens Empresários, a national association of young entrepreneurs] at a time when there was a clear need to close a gap: there was a burgeoning entrepreneurial class and a group of designers who were beginning to show themselves,’ explains João Rafael Koehler, Portugal Fashion’s president. ‘The success of the event confirmed the need to establish a project that would bring about a closer relationship between the textile and clothing industry and national designers, promoting them jointly in Portugal and abroad.’

Just four years later, the event had developed a global focus, taking the work of five Portuguese designers and eight Portuguese brands on tour and presenting this at São Paulo Fashion Week. ‘It was a landmark event for Portugal Fashion, which took a step forward in its international promotional strategy,’ Koehler says. ‘Since then, the project has made the internationalisation of Portuguese fashion one of its cornerstones, holding campaigns in cities as varied as Paris, Barcelona, Istanbul, London and Berlin.’

Stellar alumni
Portugal Fashion has fostered some of the county’s greatest talents, helping to develop their careers and go on to achieve great success. Koehler cites Felipe Oliveira Baptista. ‘Thanks to the visibility he gained in Paris, he earned the position of creative director at Lacoste.’ The achievements of individual designers, such as Oliveira Baptista, help to benefit the country’s fashion industry as a whole, adding value to Portugal’s design output and reminding style fans why Portuguese brands are worth investing in.

‘Portuguese fashion can be proud that it now has a unique profile,’ says Koehler. ‘This has been created from the fusion of two distinct realities: a past with a strong tradition in producing clothes and shoes, and a present with strong industrial and creative dynamics. The result is a concept of qualified fashion, benefiting from technical quality and original designs.’

The next generation
In addition to championing brands that have been showing at the event since its inception, Portugal Fashion is also concerned with promoting the next generation of Portuguese design. Portugal Fashion’s Bloom competition was launched in 2010 and aims to attract designers between the ages of 18 and 35. Stylist Miguel Flor selects the designers the project will support and helps to structure their fashion shows, which take the form of performance-based displays rather than typical catwalk events.

Koehler believes the Bloom project spells economic success for Portugal and its fashion industry. It’s a stepping stone for emerging talent, he says, and it invigorates the national fashion panorama ‘by facilitating the integration of new designers into the labour market and bridging the gaps at design level in sector companies.’ More designers in the market, he explains ‘means added value for industrial production and a higher volume of business in the fashion sector ‒ in shows, showrooms, fairs and auditions.’ This, he adds, also supports all the different people who work in fashion ‒ models, hairdressers, stage managers, make-up artists, sound and light technicians, photographers and more.

Business basics
Portugal Fashion has helped the country’s designers focus on developing their business acumen as well as their creative skills. As Koehler says, ‘It has given designers the incentive to add a business strategy to their activity, without affecting the aesthetic component of fashion.’ In 20 years of honing the country’s design talent and shaping designers into successful creative directors, Portugal Fashion has developed from an acclaimed national project into an international event that helps to benefit the country’s fashion industry, taking Portugal one step closer to competing with the likes of London, Milan and Paris on the world stage.

‘The maturity of the project is clearly seen, not only in the experience acquired in organising fashion events, but also in the development of professional and business structures and in the implementation of strategies for promoting the sector at international level,’ Koehler says. Portugal Fashion goes beyond the parameters of the usual catwalk shows, making it unique in the global style landscape. It has not only helped launch the careers of some of the country’s most notable designers, it has turned them into viable businesses that customers can invest in for years to come. Here’s to 20 more stunning years.

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