“I wanted to work on a small scale... one advantage is exclusivity and this is something that is important to me”
Strangely enough I start the interview as an observer but quickly discover that this has an advantage. We decide to have a pre-interview coffee in a bar below Barcelona's Encants market, Núria, my wife, and myself. The plan is that from here I will go with Núria to her studio and we will talk. Instead I become an observer because my wife is keen to know as much as she can about this young designer. I learn a number of things; she is from l'Escala, she has been working on her own for exactly one year, she has been in the Catalan capital since she came to design school at the age of 18. I also learn she knows her stuff, she identifies the top my wife is wearing from one look saying “it's in the fabric and the cut, but also the way the dye is caste in the yarn and not after the fabric has been woven.” I also learn that design is her life. When she begins to talk about what she does her face, voice and corporal expression all change. I am suitably impressed.
In her studio-flat we get the basic things out of the way. Design school, her final year doing an internship with Spain's latest king of design, Josep Font. When she graduates, Font offers her a job and whisks her away to work on his first show in Paris in 2006. What was that like? “Heady, preparing a show on-site, and his design is so detailed. It's not my style but I learned so much about detail, the small things. Things you don't learn in design school. I have been lucky to have such good teachers.”
Another of those was TCN's Totón Comella, where she worked before going it alone. I wonder if her style is influenced by those designers. “Not really, my inspiration comes from the things around me, things I see in the street, magazines, films, blogs, travel. I love to travel, London, Paris, especially London. But inspiration is never copying. It's taking ideas and playing with them, mulling them over, at times for ages, perhaps putting them together with other ideas. But copy, never.”
Going it alone, was it a big decision? “More no than yes. It was the right thing to do at the right time. In fact most people told me later that they were surprised I took so long to go solo. I am comfortable with it.”
So, who does Núria Serra design for, is there a particular woman?
“Definitely. She's twenty-something to fifty-something. Independent, sure of herself. She doesn't need other people to define her. She is elegant and practical and feminine, hard working, confident. She likes what she is.”
As I listen to her explanation I have the impression that she might as well have been looking in the mirror. So the clothes you design? “They are an extension of the woman, a statement. She doesn't wear clothes to tell the world what she is. Her clothes are simply an externalisation. It's different.”
I ask if her work has a signature and she thinks a little. “The colours, most designers move within a set of hues, tones they are comfortable with. With each collection there are changes, but usually subtle rather than extravagant. The tones vary slightly, the saturation, and the light.” And in design? “Not so much. I decided I wanted to work on a small scale. There are disadvantages, of course, but one advantage is exclusivity and this is something that is important to me. I like the idea, and I think the client likes it even more, that the creation she is wearing is exclusive, hers. Her. My creations have a signature in concept which is in all my work; elegance, comfort but especially exclusivity because every woman is an individual, beautiful, exclusive.”
On the table between us there is a cutting, some 10cm² , a very soft velvet, off-white. As we talk she continuously plays with it. She uses it to explain to me what she is going to do with it and I realise that she is already quite clear about what it will become. “It won't be exactly the same colour, but I like the texture and the light it catches. It falls well and once I have the cut, the flow is flattering.”
This is where I see the difference between a designer and a creative. The concept of play and the process of making something from an idea. It sounds so simple, but it is not because it is far from invention. One way of looking at it is understanding that creatives such as Núria, tend to take a vision, an outcome, and then to some degree, obsess with it until they find the means to make the vision reality.
That process needs a number of things, but especially time, and an environment. Desigual set up 27-person design teams as almost cocoons and built the company structure around them. Mango had Enric Casi Brunsó to set up the mechanical side of things. All to serve the creatives.
So, what about Núria Serra's one-woman creative empire?
“I do it myself.” What does that mean? “I find the people who can do for me what I can't do alone. I work with local people in and around Barcelona. I don't have one workshop, I move from place to place. I select short runs of fabric from different purveyors, that adds to the exclusivity. Once the bolt runs out, that's it. It makes it special, singular. My clients know that.”
The same goes for sales and marketing. Núria has an active and up-to-date Facebook system working and now a new on-line shop: (www.nuriaserrabarcelona.com). Through Facebook, some of her clients have met others, and word-of-mouth is working well for her. She also has representatives offering her creations to boutiques. That means that from time to time there is a mad rush to get an order filled as quickly as possible and her team of collaborators swings into action with all the efficency of the design and production hub of the big names. “That doesn't matter, “ she says. “It's exciting and I like it small. Small is beautiful”. And life, what about life? She laughs, “I have a life outside all of this”.
Before we part company, Núria tells me about the new collection she is preparing and I have to swear I won't tell anyone. I wish I could because I love it. It's exciting, fun, fresh, and best of all, it's her. Over the door as I leave I see the words: “Never stop believing in yourself”.
Never better said.
The creative environmentJoe Hogan
Since the 17th century, Western society has been dominated by principles known as the Scientific Method, an empirical view of our lives based on what is already existing and can be examined, quantified and qualified. It is a useful mechanism because it allows us to learn techniques which will give predictable outcomes or validate hypotheses. There are two main problems. The first is that it assumes that what we already know is correct. The second is that it can be manipulated.
In the 1960s, psychologists began to study the creative process, asking why successful creatives (the term, as a noun, came into being thanks to their investigations) were often not successful academically and why they did not necessarily need to be experts in their fields. They found that such people use a different thought process which, among other things, allowed for unstructured experimentation (playing), and did not recognise obstacles as problems but rather as challenges which would be incorporated into the creative process itself. For the process to function, certain conditions must be met and our society has difficulties with that, especially in the education system which is becoming overly examination orientated. Dr Edward de Bono developed his “Six Thinking Hats” programme of creative decision-making which helps business become “creative-friendly”. Successful companies such as the Sony Corporation, have been using his programme for years.