By Hannah Rand
Berta Cabestany used her background in fine art and jewellery to create her debut fashion collection and unique embroidery designs. From motorbikes to mimosas, Make catches up with the Spanish designer to find out what inspires her unusual work.
It’s a freezing, grey, February day in London but inside the cosy coffee lounge of 72 Dean Street, sunshine radiates from Berta Cabestany. Freshly squeezed off an early morning flight from Barcelona, the Catalan-born fashion designer unpacks all the zest and vibrancy of her home country and pours her fresh thinking into the steamy confines of sleety London.
28-year-old Cabestany is in town to talk about her debut collection. Alive with bold holiday colours – sunflower yellow, swimming pool blue and deep crimson reds, she juxtaposes delicate yet structured fabrics like organza, crepe and neoprene to rework structures, as well as providing a master class in pleating and bonding to create her neo-feminine silhouettes. But most of all it’s her embroidery that makes her work stand apart.
The expressive, hand-sewn designs are created in her small workshop in Barcelona. ‘I want to bring the craftsmanship of haute couture to streetwear,’ she says. ‘Fashion in my country can be very conservative and we are dominated by Inditex (the holding company that owns Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka), but we have a culture of artistry and lace and beadwork. My passion is to bring the individualism and personality of a small atelier to my designs.’
When preparing a design, Cabestany says she always starts with fabric and a colour, but then ‘paints’ her work with embroidery based on ‘blind’ drawing. ‘It’s a technique I learnt at art school,’ says Cabestany. ‘You don’t look at the paper while you are drawing. I’ve been doing it for about ten years for fun but now I apply it to my work. The figures that come out are very interesting. Your subconscious mind takes over. I love the infinite combinations you can create from a handful of beads. It’s fun but also very therapeutic. You have to go slowly. If you pull too hard, the thread breaks.’
The result of this dynamic but careful work is a series of playful parrots, comic book explosions and abstract mimosa flowers – all inspired in part by Jean Luc Goddard’s beguilingly, sun-drenched 1965 film ‘Pierrot de Fou’. The film is better known for its pop art-like use of primary colours and for surreal motifs, like exploding bombs and teddy bear handbags. Hence there is a dynamite handbag and a transparent PVC raincoat covered in parrots in Cabestany’s collection.
The ‘Pierrot de Fou’ storyline was in turn based on a book by American pulp fiction writer Lionel White, called ‘Obsession’. (White’s noir crime fiction was turned into many popular films in the 50s and 60s, and Quentin Tarantino said he based his 1992 film ‘Reservoir Dogs’ on one of his books.) And Cabestany says she has many obsessions that influence her work, but particularly Spanish surrealism – from Dali to the magic realism of directors like Guillermo del Toro to the movement and intensity of Flamenco. ‘It’s something in my DNA,’ she says. ‘I’m really interested in the way surrealists see the world.’
This kooky ability of looking at a dress and seeing dynamite might be down to her tomboy upbringing in a family full of brothers obsessed by motorcycles and racing. Her grandfather founded the famous Derbi motorcycle company. ‘I don’t like motorbikes but I do own a scooter. But I did do a Motorcross course to learn how to fall correctly. Barcelona is quite dangerous to drive in so you need to know how to use your breaks,’ she says, endearingly serious for a moment.
The family have a holiday home near the idyllic and chic town of Ilafranc on the Costa Brava, which was once a haven for artists, writers and film stars, including Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemmingway, think a 1950s Cannes for Spain. ‘We go for the whole of August. It’s where I go to relax completely. We have a little boat “but I always take my embroidery with me” she says. “A suitcase for every colour, because you never know what will inspire you.”
From mimosas to motorcycles, boats to bombs, I’m looking forward to seeing what sunny Cabestany surprises us with next.