Marta Marques, one-half of the design duo Marques'Almeida, recalls the first time she saw the brand's clothing on a street-style web site, as worn head-to-toe by model Elena Perminova at New York Fashion Week. "My friend emailed me the picture saying: "look it's on style.com," my first instinct was that she had just made it with Photoshop," she jokes. Her partner, Paulo Almeida, told her, "Oh my God, someone's copying us!" But Perminova had bought the whole look.
The Portuguese-born Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida were picked up by Lulu Kennedy and her Fashion East stable as soon as they graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2011. Their eye-catching, Kurt Cobain-referencing denim graduation collection is still fresh.
Denim is this brand's DNA. While working on their final Saint Martins collection, Marques'Almeida set out to find the essential ingredients of, what they call, the "youth code": the essence of vitality, rebellion and tomorrow's generation. With piles of research they decided that it ultimately boils down to three elements: leather, white T-shirts, and denim. "And, denim can be worked in so many different ways, it's also unusual for a high-end brand, or even a graduate student to do a whole collection in denim," explains Marques.
But they are very specific about their denim. "We actually found it a big struggle at first because the denim industry is a lot about jeanswear brands and they look for a kind of denim that has some stretch in it," she says. Almeida adds: ‘Because of this "youth code" we wanted the most basic denim possible." After the hunt for the perfect raw denim, Paulo and Marta perfected the dyes and washes as well as the oversized and baggy—but not swamping, mind—silhouettes, with each piece finished and frayed in the studio by hand.
"We feel detached from that whole sense of ‘glamour is fashion.' It has never made sense for us to work with fantasy, we want things to be real," said Marta, dressed in a matching marl tracksuit jumper and pants.
"Designers pay a lot of attention to if the model is super-tall, super-skinny and basically we just pay attention to whether she is cool because we don't mind if she is, like, 5'8 or 5'7." They use their friends who come by the studio and have the oversized denim dress, shrunken knits and leather pieces fitted.
Chatting in their studio in London's Dalston neighborhood, Marques rolls a cigarette. "We want to work for a younger customer and cooler customer," Almeida drawls in his heavy accent. "Rather than going completely mainstream," adds Marques, "Maybe that is going to leave us at the bottom of that pile, but there are lots of different ways to do it in this industry."