There are many things about Ernesto Naranjo that will surprise you. His design talents are evident but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a composure and calmness that are unusual for someone so young. He wants to know everything and, more importantly, he knows exactly what he doesn’t want. He’s also has his priorities straight and right now his priority is to keep studying.
At 22, his work has already been selected for the next EGO fashion show (the Madrid Fashion Week platform for young designers) in February. His pure, clean and architectural designs really are a breath of fresh air.
Ernesto Naranjo was born in Pilas (Seville) and although his intention was to study architecture, his devotion to fashion won out. What started as a hobby ended up becoming his art so during his last years in secondary school, he dedicated his mornings to dressmaking and design and his afternoon to his studies.
He’s a fervent supporter of the teaching methods at the University of Central St. Martins in London; he has no problem saying what he likes, and what he doesn’t about most everything. We sat down with him recently to get an idea of what it’s like to study in one of the best fashion universities in the world.
SO CATCHY!: Why did you decide to study fashion instead of architecture?
ERNESTO NARANJO: I started university prep in the ‘technology’ course because my original idea was to study architecture, which I didn’t end up doing. Notwithstanding, everything I do is very architectural so I’m still in touch with that. So I started university prep and, even though it was going well, it was boring and intense. I didn’t want to spend all of my life working with numbers and more numbers and accounts. I also didn’t like the aesthetic part of architecture. I asked my father, he works in construction, and he told me that inside the architecture you also have to think about the pipes, cement, etc., so I thought, I’d better not go ahead with this and I changed my focus. I left my school and went to another to study the Arts branch. In the mornings I went to dressmaking and design classes to get my feet wet and in the afternoon I studied..
When I finished I asked myself what I was going to do next. I didn’t want to go abroad since I was so young and a little afraid so I went to Madrid and started studying at the European Design Institute. I was there for a year and a half but I didn’t find what I was looking for and so I left the course. In April 2011 I figured I was ready to go to London. First I did a year of Fashion Folio, which is like a preparation course for Central St. Martins. I made my portfolio, they interviewed me and I applied to Womenswear and Fashion Print and I got into both. I applied for both because I knew that getting into Womenswear would be difficult since more people apply for that field. Now I’m in my second year there.
SC!: When you told your family that you were going to study fashion instead of architecture, how did they take it?
EN: My mother said, “Very good, where do you study that?”. She wanted something more official. My father said that while as long as I was setting up my own business or working for a company, it was ok with him. There are many taboos in the fashion world that, if your son studies fashion, then, you know, and more so in Seville. I’ve been lucky in that 99% of what I’ve achieved has been thanks to my parents and my family who have supported me a lot. I know many boys who want to do what I do but simply can’t.
And economically, I’ve been lucky to have help from my parents during my studies. They value what I’m learning in London, the contacts that I’m making and all. They’re investing in my education and I can’t ask for anything more.
SC!: What made you go for Womenswear?
EN: Because I see clothes as shapes, the cuts, the endings. In the Print degree, it’s more about the fabric. They’re flat articles and you spend more time on printing techniques, how to do devoré and such.
SC!: What do you think of Central St Martins so far?
EN: I like it a lot because their methods are so different than what we do here in Spain. Here you sit in front of the teacher and cross your arms and wait for him to tell you everything he knows. IN Central St. Martins they give you a briefing at the beginning of the month, the week or whenever a project starts. Then you have maybe 10 minutes of time alone with the professor and that’s all you’ll see of them throughout the project. You do the research and the development and everything else that’s involved.
When you get to Central St Martins, you have to already have a certain skillset, they don’t teach it to you. You sort of stumble around find things out for yourself. In the meetings with the teachers, they’re very dry. They tell you if they like it or not, add something here, take something away there and that’s it. You even have to figure out whether or not they like the work, you have to look them in the eyes and see how they react (laughs).
In Spain, I felt like I was held back and that they teach you more to create commercial items, things that will sell. I know that’s what the end result should be, that fashion is a business and that you have to sell in order to create your collections. But it’s also an arte, an art that you sell because people put it on and wear it. So I think that you should be taught how to get everything out and worry about the commercial part later.
When I get to my last year I’ll have to think more about my “client” and where my dresses will end up. The first project I did was called “White Project” and they gave us two fabrics, felt and cotton. With that they told us to “go crazy” and not worry about where it would end up. They wanted to see how we create.
SC!: Don’t you have any theory classes?
EN: We have one theory class, on Tuesdays, which is called Cultural Studies, about cultural studies as they are applied to fashion, about society and how society is influenced by fashion and vice versa
SC!: That seems like an interesting class…
EN: It is. The last project I did was on carnavalesque, how fashion is influenced by the tradition of the Carnival, and how during Carnival people aren’t afraid to get dressed up or put on fancy dress but the next day they go back to normality. During the festival anything goes but afterwards you go straight back to normal life, because of fear maybe.
SC!: That’s probably it…
EN: Exactly. I’m quite comfortable in London but here people look at you as if you’ve done something wrong.
SC!: Is there a kind of natural selection in Central St. Matins? Do any students drop out throughout the career?
EN: Well, there are some people who can’t continue due to economic reasons, or because they don’t think they’re prepared enough and want to take another year to study a bit. And others, for example, the third year is dedicated to work experience and internships but it isn’t obligatory, so they stop.
SC!: Apart from being an expensive city, the universities in London are also quite costly.
EN: There are thousands of scholarships, or loans that you can get and don’t have to pay back until you start to work or earn more than x pounds. Some students work for a year and then do a year of the career and so on until they finish the career. London is a great city to study in.
SC!: Where do you go in London to find inspiration?
EN: In the East End there are a lot of museums, like the Victoria and Albert Museum it’s a great place where they send us to draw, take notes, and look at fabric or embroidery. But walking through the streets, no one place in particular. It’s a bit stereotypical to say “I can find inspiration in anything”, but it really is like that. At the school, they want our projects to be personal, to reflect our personalities. For example, in the last project, they told us to forget photographs and inspiration. They told us to draw, just to draw something that doesn’t exist, about ourselves, our feelings, etc. We’ve already fallen into the monotony of doing the research, the development, the design development and making the garment. The process has got a bit old.
SC!: Define your style as a designer…
EN: I’m still working on it but I think that a unique personal style is difficult. Everyday I get up and get dressed and my mood in the morning shows in the way I dress. Today I feel like wearing all leather and tomorrow, I think I’ll put on a smoking jacket and hit the street.
What is clear is that I’m not into prints, but I don’t let that govern everything. I like straight lines, I don’t like lace or frills. I like large, strong structures with pure lines. I’m not a wedding dress designer, I can’t imagine doing that, but who knows, maybe I’ll give it a shot.
I’m still working on my style. After third-year and in fourth with the final collection I’ll need to my own style.
SC!: Your favorite fabric…
EN: I don’t have a favorite fabric; I just go to normal fabric stores. For example, I like hardware stores and construction supply stores because the materials they have provide different shapes: mesh, oilcloth, neoprene. They are more technological materials that aren’t necessarily meant for wearing, but when you are creating something they give you more options than silk or plumeti.
At Central St Martins they tell us that we shouldn’t focus on conventional materials, that we should look for new things. There are many technological fabrics that are coming out now, for athletes, divers, linings for lots of different things.
SC!: It’s the first time you’ve presented work to EGO and you’ve already been selected…
EN: Yeah, it’s amazing! I sent in my work because of all the pressure people were putting on me. I wanted to finish studying first but, then I thought about it and thinking about how long I have till I finish, I thought it was the right moment. So I sent my collection, I took a project from the career and they chose it. I’m very happy. So right now I’m making the collection I started in summer because you have to have at least three finished outfits to participate in EGO. I presented four and twenty-one sketches of looks.
SC!: Have you done a completely new collection just for EGO, from beginning to end?
EN: The project that I’m going to show is an extension of the first project that I did for university, the “White Project”. I expanded on the project, mixing it with another one I’d done before, which was also very architectural.
So now I’m sewing, trying to give it my all because I go to London in January and EGO is in February. I’m trying to do a look every day from the twenty that I’m going to present (I’ve already finished four).
SC!: Do you know who is going to be on the catwalk with you?
EN: I’ll be showing with Leyre Valiente and Herida de Gato.
SC!: How are you going to surprise us?
EN: I don’t know. I’m going to try to do something that shows off my own style and is cool, a real show. I’m not going to do anything commercial. People want young designers to be creative, unconventional; they don’t want to see anything they’ve seen before. And for me the catwalk is the catwalk and the garments will sell afterwards or you can alter them so they will. People go to the catwalk to see something interesting. Shows where the models pass by, and then pass again, and pose, I find that boring. I want to feel the first impression; I don’t care if it only lasts for two minutes. I want the clothes to say something, to show feeling.
SC!: Try and sum up the collection we’ll see in February in two words.
EN: “Límite” (boundary or edge) and “calm”: the way the sky blends with the building, the line. It’s the concept of the dividing line between the sky and buildings, the line that is created guides the cuts for the dresses, it transmits the calm at the top of a building, and then as the line goes down to the city, and mixes with the confusion of the city, the cars, the noise, it gets tangled.
I went out to the street, I looked at London and I found inspiration. At Central St Martins we don’t start with fashion references, we use opposite references and we emphasize getting out and walking around the city, making sketches, enjoying life, finding what brings out the creativity, going to the cinema, getting outdoors.
SC!: And how do you define yourself?
EN: I don’t know. I guess I’m a calm person, patient, I think I’m still that way but I am moving around more, there are so many things that interest me and so much to do. I’m still very organized, I like things to be in their place and you can see that in the work I do, straight and clean.
SC!: Do you have a hobby?
EN: I don’t have any hobbies beyond what I already do. I think that fashion is my hobby, that’s why I didn’t think about studying it before, it was a hobby until I realized that you could study it and work and there’s a whole industry that is quite strong. I spend all day everyday dedicated to that, watching videos, studying, seeing what’s new, making sketches.
SC!: Any new designers that you like?
SC!: A colour…
EN: White. I don’t normally wear white but I like white as the base of a canvas which you can work on, draw on, print on. It’s also the colour of my collection but tomorrow it could be another. I have always liked neutral colours, black, grey, and blue.
SC!: Any designers that you look to for inspiration?
EN: I really like Nicolas Ghesquière, I love what he did in Balenciaga. I don’t like what Alexander Wang is doing now because it seems so commercial. I like better what he does in his own brand than the work he does for Balenciaga, it’s more daring.
I like Rick Owens a lot too…
SC!: Where do you shop for clothes?
SC!: Define fashion.
EN: For me its 24 hours a day dedicated to fashion. It’s like a feeling, is something that reaches you. If you don’t feel it, then it’s not your place. There are a lot of people that want to dedicate themselves to fashion because they think that it’s superficial, they like the events, the party, but it’s deeper than that, it’s not as shallow as people think. There is a superficial side but where you really live fashion is inside the design workshops.
SC!: What do you think Spain needs to create a fashion industry that really supports new designers?
EN: The problem is the archaic mentality that we have here, and I include myself in that. Some things still seem weird to me when I see them, they’re shocking but if you explore that feeling, and you develop it, interesting things can happen.
Young designers need support, grants that are well thought-out. We’ve already given out a lot of money and held a lot of events and thrown parties and all that but we haven’t opened businesses to move forward. In the end, the designers that make it are the ones who work and fight to get where they are, and they usually don’t receive any economic help. There are many designers who are going under because they’ve lived off of grants for so long that now we’re in a crisis and there’s no money, they can’t continue.
It’s nice to participate in EGO, for example, and you can look at it in two ways: as a platform to learn or as a launching pad for your business or work. The problem that I see is the prize that they give you consists of helping you get onto an international catwalk. That’s good but if the designer had trouble creating the collection for EGO, how are they going to do another collection without money? I think it’d be better to have companies sponsor the winners, get them some money or take them to fashion fairs. That would be a good prize.
The best part about EGO is the access to the beautiful models, the photography, the videos, projections and the press. But many times we need a different sort of assistance, like, I don’t know, for someone to see the collection in EGO and say “that’s a good designer, we’re going to bet on him”.
SC!: Where do you think fashion is heading?
EN: It’s all very eclectic and it depends on the city. New York is different than Paris. Paris is more artistic, its where everything starts. NY is commercial, its real, NY absolutely has the best “sport” and “ready-to-wear”.
Fashion in general, goes where the business leads it. There are still independent designers who can afford to ignore the business and who do what they really like but there comes a time when they can’t maintain the business and they have to get back on the wagon. And that’s how things are, fashion, as a business that is dependent on sales, has to attract the customer’s attention.
SC!: The business side is also important because, in the end, fashion is an industry. Do they teach you anything about online business or e-commerce at Central St. Martins?
EN: No, nothing at all. My idea when I get out is the work for a company for a few years, see how they do it and when I think the time is right I’ll set up my own design firm. But you can’t set up a fashion business without knowing something about the business side of things or you’ll never get off the ground.
SC!: Your unreachable dream?
EN: I don’t know, I’d like to make my own way and for it to be as good as some of the independents that are out there. I’d like to be an independent designer, and not be a part of a conglomerate, like a luxury holding. I hope I won’t need that holding. I’d be happy with my own firm, a Rick Owens that was successful.
SC!: What makes you happy?
EN: I’m happy, I like what I do, I’m in the right place, I’m doing what I want to. Life is too short to spend doing things you don’t enjoy.
The team of So Catchy! Where Fashion Begins will be at EGO next February to support this promising young Spanish talent.
Translation and Layout by Michael Padilla.