It is hard to imagine that the woman who sits in front of me on the terrace of Begur's Hotel el Convent began her professional life as a model at the tender age of 14, but as the interview progresses I understand that her depth of knowledge of the fashion industry, and especially as it relates to Catalonia, has been learned on the inside and that there is little on the subject that she is not perfectly qualified to speak about. She impresses with her clear and direct responses and the carefully considered observations she has used to form her opinions.
Your organisation, what does it do?
We started up in 2006 and our work, as a non-profit, is to provide support for the industry. We put on shows and organise promotions, but there is a lot more to it than that. Designers, for example can only do so much and need help to develop business resources. We can help with things like branding, developing marketing skills and so on. Often it is a matter of putting the right people together and letting them get on with the job.
Catalan fashion. Where is it now?
The crisis hit all sectors of the industry hard, very hard. It has not been easy watching people I know very well go through such difficult times. Right now, we seem to be turning a corner and there are signs that we are coming out of that.
What signs are those?
The devaluation of the Euro has helped a lot because at present there is more hope in external markets. The internal market will take a little longer. And then of course there is the nature of fashion itself. It is important to remember that fashion is all about change and adapting and challenge. That is part of the magic of the industry. This also means that it is an industry which sees a crisis in a different way. Those who come through this will be those who have been able to use that change to their advantage.
And this external market?
We underestimate Asia. We tend to think of Asia as mass-production, poor quality and cheap at the same time. We have to change the way we think about that. The market there is massive and it is hungry for fashion. We have to learn to take advantage of what they have to offer us as an industry, and there is a lot. However, there is something fundamental that we have that they are lacking: design. We have design and designers.
So, just how do our designers get themselves known?
Like anything, hard work. Persistence. Never giving up. Fighting. Show after show after show. You have good designs and people like them. They remember them when they see them again. But good branding makes sure that people recognise that they are your designs. That's important for designers. Contacts. Developing a business model. It's extremely difficult. In the association we can provide a lot of that.
By that do you mean newcomers, small companies, freelance designers?
It is the same for everyone. They are just working on different scales but they need the same skills and their own business model.
Many designers now sell exclusively on-line. Is that the future?
Almost definitely not. It is a model that works at present but something else will take it's place, and quite soon. The industry must adapt immediately. The design side can do that, the support model may have problems and that goes for the big names as well as the newcomers. In five years' time things will be completely different. That's fashion.
Is Barcelona 080 moving in the right direction for Catalan fashion?
I came up through the years of Saló Gaudí and 080 is a big improvement; it's run by people in the industry so it is a response to the needs of the industry.
People say that during New York Fashion Week, New York becomes fashion. Is that possible here? Are we missing something?
Glamour. I'd say glamour. Look at the front rows of shows in New York or London. They are filled with actors, people from the worlds of sport and culture. These people bring glamour. They enhance the magic. Fashion weeks put designers on display to buyers, they aren't really public events, but it all helps. We need more glamour.
What about glamour in regards to top models? Isn't that a big part of the glamour that you are talking about?
That is one thing that has changed a lot over recent years, and that is a very good thing. For a number of years, the figure of the 'top' became far too important. People came to the shows to see these people who caught the headlines day in, day out. Everyone was talking about them and what they were doing. What models are supposed to do is to get people talking about what they are modeling. It was not a good situation and, thankfully, it has changed. Models are there to serve fashion.
Part of this year's programme at 080 was putting designers together with investors.
This is definitely a good move. This is one area we deal with in the association. However, one of the most important things is getting money to understand fashion and designers to understand money. That's not easy. Investors must understand that investing in fashion is different. Designers need to know that investors need to see a return on their investment in a reasonable time. People who invest in fashion are not usually what you might call a 'typical' investor.
Haute Couture. Is it still around?
Of course. It's just a different approach to fashion. Fashion is like any commodity, it's a question of supply and demand. There is a demand and I imagine that there always will be a demand for high fashion. To some extent it is in a class of its own.
Where do we stand in Catalonia in terms of educating and developing the designers of the future?
We have excellent design schools here. The fact that we have a long tradition in design in all areas means that educating for design is important and it is something that has continued over the years. But it is something we need to maintain and not take for granted.
So if I were to ask you for names to watch out for, who would you suggest?
I wouldn't do that, for two reasons. Firstly, from a professional point of view, our association supports and promotes all designers and people in fashion, so to single out one or two would be unfair. But even more to the point is that I wouldn't know where to start. Quite honestly, there are just so many really good designers out there. We have so many talented people. What is important is they get the chance to be seen. Many of them won't and that is such a pity, and that's why we need to do all we can to make sure they have every opportunity possible.