Pumps Up the Volume of Fashion

11/04/2019 · By Rocío Navarro
celiavalverde openning
Volumes and tulles are hallmarks of Célia’s designs. © Courtesy of CÉLIAvalverde

Tested on Instagram with thousands of likes, big tulles and maximalist ruffles have become synonyms with avant-garde. Madrid-born designer CÉLIAvalverde has turned them into her hallmarks, but her universe doesn’t end here. Ask Kendall Jenner!

The bestselling dress by CÉLIAvalverde (this is the logo the 1991-born Madrilenian chose for her brand) is made of forty meters of ruffles and bulky tulle and goes by the name of Tweety Dress. It was part of the collection that won her the Madrid Mercedes-Benz Fashion Talent Award, given to young designers. Despite its fairy-tale-like look, this and other pieces by Célia are genderless and inclusive--artist Ernesto Artillo, for one, wears her clothes in one of his self-portraits. Célia’s mise-en-scène is grandiloquent. Her universe is structured around gathered fabrics, puffed sleeves, animal prints, and sequins, which she lends a sculptural form --partly by using the moulage technique (sewing directly on a model’s body or on a mannequin)-- and applies strategically with the aim to create a new language of contemporary elegance.

There are many designers working hard and trying hard to show their creations on runway shows. However, you’re going against the tide. Why is this?

We showed our collection at the EGO platform twice [in 2018, she won the Best Collection Award]. Then we decided to change the runway for a presentation of CÉLIAvalverde on a hotel terrace, and now we’re focusing on look-book photos. Organizing a runway show is hard work and it’s very stressful, and they’re not always profitable because we mostly sell abroad.

As they say, experience makes you wiser. Allowing yourself to make mistakes makes you so, too?

The steps you take help you know where you need to go. As I said, we’ve organized runway shows, presentations with still models, photographs... After so many different things, you get to know what works and what is best for your brand. When you fail, you learn something. What works best for us are social networks, that’s where we have the greatest impact.

It is precisely thanks to social networks that your brand is known worldwide.

Indeed. Many people reach us out through these channels. I guess they have a team of young people constantly browsing Instagram. For example, Kendall Jenner bought my Thiara Havana glasses. I remember it was Easter and that I was on vacation with my friends and I saw an order from her. She bought three pairs! I thought she wouldn't wear them because she must have tons of them, but then she posted photos on Instagram several times wearing them.

What did the fact that she showed your glasses to her over 117 million followers mean to you?

I was gobsmacked! Many people ask me if it was the result of hardcore public relations, but the best of it all is that it was Kendall herself who bought them and shared them. She didn't tag me because brands pay a lot of money for that. But the important thing is that she posted a photo wearing them!

She’s not the only one. Katy Perry wore your Garden Dress in the video for “Never Really Over”. How did that come about?

Katy Perry asked us for a lot of looks for her video. I think one of her stylists had discovered my Instagram account and wanted some of the clothes. When the filming of the video was over, one of her assistants wrote to us saying Katy wanted to keep all the dresses. She bought the dresses and sunglasses.

I understand you design alongside your mother. What is it like to work with her every day?

She knows me better than anyone else. With just a drawing or a WhatsApp audio she knows exactly what I want. She comes across a fabric and she knows that I’ll like it. What’s not so cool is that, when there is a lot of confidence, as it is in our case, clashing is also common.

What are your roles?

When I started in 2014, we had no resources and my mother used to make the entire collection, both the patterns and the sewing. I don’t like to sew, but I love to search for fabrics and buttons and do all the previous research. We check the patterns together, but she takes care of that part. Now that orders have increased, my mother does the most sophisticated sewing work, such as the volumes, and we outsource everything else to dressmakers.

Was she the one who instilled the love for fashion in you?

My mother has always been a dressmaker. When I was little, I used remnants to dress my dolls and I also helped her cut patterns. Sewing and patternmaking have always been very present at home. I became more interested in fashion when I was a teenager. I used to buy magazines and browse all the trends, but I didn't take it too seriously because I was supposed to become an architect. But in high school I realized fashion was my thing, so I switched from Sciences to Art and, when I finished, I studied Fashion Design at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

When it comes to designing, what inspires you?

I never make a mood board nor draw a story when I create a collection. I like it when there’s is an evolution from a previous collection, when there’s continuity. Among my influences are Motown artists, such a Diana Ross and her 80s costumes, or the style of African American families. My mother is from Equatorial Guinea and that inspires me when it comes to choosing the colour palette and the volumes. Both she and my grandmother have many pictures wearing very colourful outfits and patterned African fabrics. Besides this, I’m also inspired by the 1990s.

"My influences range from Motown artists, such as Diana Ross’ 80s costumes, to the style of African-American families"

You use mainly tulle, organza, and sequins. Where do you get them?

There's a little bit of everything. I get them at specialty stores on Calle Atocha, and through Turkish and Italian suppliers. Some are curtains! I have made a few dresses with curtains because some see-through fabrics are very delicate and deteriorate fast. However, curtains are much more resistant and visually they work just as well.

You said almost all your orders are international. Where do people wear CÉLIAvalverde more?

Ever since Kendall Jenner and Katy Perry wore my designs, we’re getting many orders from Los Angeles, but specially from Paris. We’re having an Asian moment now, I think because we’re selling through a multi-brand store called Joyce, a sort of Asian Harrod’s. They bought the entire collection and now we have some clients there. In Spain, after Amaya wore the Magpie dress at the Goya Awards, we’ve gotten a wave of orders, especially from Andalusia. The best thing is that we never know for sure where they’ll come from.