Eco-friendly label Marcello De Santis blends inspiration from Paris and Brazil to create sustainable and ethereal collections. Relaunched in July 2018, the Marcello De Santis brand now centres craftsmanship alongside its commitment to the environment, utilising its particular attention to detail to create beautiful and diverse works. The label’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection reinforces this idea by pushing dresses and skirts with unstructured shapes, pairing the pieces with handmade embroidery, lace, and more. To hear more about this collection and the label, Schön! spoke to Marcello De Santis, the brand’s founder and master mind.
You began your career as a designer when you were 19. How has your process changed since those early days?
From the beginning, my work has always been very artisanal, really linked to the handmade. At the time, I worked a lot with denim and patchwork on my creations and used themes. I won a contest in São Paulo with my first collection, which was inspired by military uniforms and Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture. The following year, at 20, I was nominated by Brazilian journalists and fashion designers committee to be part of the official line-up of fashion week in Rio de Janeiro. This very fast trajectory, for a new designer, influenced what I am today. It all happened too fast for me. I had never done an internship in a fashion house, I felt very insecure because my brand paraded with great names in Brazilian fashion. At the time, I designed my collections, chose the fabrics, followed the work of the pattern makers and dressmakers. My brand was a great success in fashion week and Brazilian media, but I felt that I lacked a specialisation. So I sought to work for other Brazilian brands and also specialise in textile and print design. I also worked for three years as a costume designer on the biggest television network, Rede Globo, where I was able to perfect my sewing, fashion history knowledge, and even psychological aspects in the composition of characters.
Nowadays, I am a different designer. I am still starting my career in Europe, the relaunch of my brand came discreetly in Brazil in 2018. My way of working is even more artisanal than before. My work also comes with a lot of research. I care much more about the ADN of my brand in each piece created than with the idea of a collection with a precise theme. My concern is to create a wardrobe for contemporary women where key pieces are loaded with emotion. The love for a job well done and thought to thrill this woman, who does not need another fashion brand but a brand that thinks fashion, [keeps me going]. Fashion relates to the evolution of our society. It should not change just to bring new lines each season. I defend slow-fashion, sustainable fashion, and the ADN of a brand. For me, the signature is like a fingerprint for a designer and I believe that this is the biggest difference from my way of creating today in relation to my early career. A more social, more responsible, and lucid thinking. Really connected with today’s world.
How did your years of experience in the luxury world affect the way you design for your own label?
My experience in the world of luxury has two phases. The first was in Brazil where I worked with major Brazilian fashion companies and the Rede Globo Television. The fashion shows I held at Brazilian Fashion Week were my start, my presentation to the fashion market in Brazil. After my entrance, I started to work for these big companies. I collaborated directly with the artistic directors. I needed to learn quickly to adapt my creative and artistic vision to the real capacity for commercial aspects of the garments. Each artistic director also has his own way of conceiving a collection and guiding his team, it was very enriching to be able to learn from each of them and also bring my vision, my own interpretation to the creations. I understood that I needed to slow down with my own brand to learn more from these professionals and I do not regret my choice. They were my bosses and also my teachers. I am very grateful to have worked with such renowned professionals in the Brazilian market.
The second watershed phase in my career came with my move to Paris. I won an international fashion contest at Istituto Marangoni Fashion School and, as a prize, I won a scholarship at the Paris branch. It was challenging to start my career in Europe again and I decided to work with European luxury brands rather than launch my brand. I then worked in the prints department of Maison Kenzo, at the time under the creative direction of Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. They had a very fresh and young vision for the relaunch of the brand and it was a great challenge to change Kenzo’s branding profile. Soon after I decided that my desire was to one day launch my brand, but as I lacked commercial bases and an understanding of consumer behaviour, I decided to work at Maison Valentino, where I stayed for two years. This experience ended up bringing me the invitation to join the fashion sales and consulting team at Maison Louis Vuitton and I stayed there for two more years. I was able to really delve into all the details that make up the building’s ADN, the desire created for the product linked to a savoir-faire. Nowadays, I reconcile the work of my brand working in the sales department of the historic Maison Cartier, where I have been for a year. It is not easy to reconcile two parallel activities, but we live in a special and hard moment that I believe that many designers will need to do what I do from the beginning that I set up in Europe. Not only work as designers but find other activities that can bring capital and experience to react to this crisis that we will live during the next years.
Talk a little bit about the importance of sustainability and being eco-friendly with your brand.
Sustainability came into my life when I moved to Paris. I started going to many popular markets, flea markets, and vintage stores. From there, I started thinking about a new type of consumption, a conscious way of making fashion using old fabrics and lace. Embroidering and embroidering again textile items that would be thrown away. I learned to embroider myself and understood that sustainability should be part of my ADN, my brand values, and my ethical way of conceiving a fashion design, a new vision for the luxury market. A fashion carried with love and emotion, that we can really feel with unique pieces but also with other more commercial pieces for the women’s wardrobe. The consumer of today and the years to come will increasingly value work with a soul and truth. Sustainability can be a way to awaken more awareness and representation in fashion.
Your design blends elements from both Paris and Brazil. Where do you feel that inspiration in your current collection?
When we relocate to another country, our nationality remains but we also assume a part of the local culture. My fashion is created as in an olfactory composition of high perfumery. Raw materials and the way they are used to create sensations on people. And it is these sensations that I would like to be felt by the women who wear my clothes. I come from a country with a relaxed, very easy-going soul and I love that naturalness in the way of being. This aspect can be seen and felt in the lightness of my creations, in the asymmetries that bring grace and lightness when the woman walks. At the same time, the Parisienne woman is also there because I love the equally unpretentious sophistication of French ladies. A French woman has historically a sexual affirmation, a very special type of androgyny, strength in the walk, and in the manner of talking and exposing her opinions. It is the meeting of two complementary spirits, the marriage of cultures.
What else inspired this collection?
The SS20 collection, like all the previous ones and I believe that the next ones as well, is not inspired by themes. Each piece I create has a different rhythm, it has a special technique in its making. I always try to bring a stylistic unit, an order with a disorderly charm, a kind of effortless chic. The creative moment very often is a painful process, it is difficult for designers to be satisfied with our own work, but one thing for me is important: That I have pleasure in creating and transforming feelings in matter, that is clothing.
The ’20s, in general, is always present in my creations, since the liberation of the female body is something that is important for me and the contemporary woman. Fluid, asymmetrical, easy-going, boyish lines are adjectives that can be felt under my creations. The femininity of the woman Marcello De Santis in some moments is delicate, in others more affirmative, she is a woman full of nuances. Full of subtleties. Nothing here is literal and obvious. Even if some parts are more commercial. Wearing this SS20 collection is an invitation to experience sensations. And pleasant sensations that value women and empower them.
Many of your pieces are androgynous with a feminine twist. What pushed you to design in this manner, and what impact do you think it has on your pieces?
I believe that androgyny has always been present in my designs through the great muses of my life. My younger sister was a successful model in Brazil, she started at the same time as me, she was 14 and I was 19 years old. She was my proof model for years and it inspired me a lot. Just like my mother’s godmother who was Miss Brazil in 1930 and came to Paris to participate in Miss Universe at the age of 18. When I was 17 and a fashion student she gave me the Fashion Plates, all hand-painted with illustrations of the evolution of women’s fashions from 1795 until the date of the contest. These beautiful and feminine women were also very strong, determined, and seductive. As I have matured over the years and I have been very engaged in sustainability and also in the desire to empower women, I feel that these two women in one way or another live inside me. I get emotional when I create my clothes because it is how to design for very different people, it is a niche for right now. A niche that I would like one day to become more comprehensive and that can embrace so many other women in Europe and in the world. Even though I am gay, I have a great love for women and a great desire to be their best friend. And that happens also through my brand, my type of clothing that gives them comfort and the opportunity to be natural and effortless.
You’ve stressed the importance of craftsmanship with the label. How does that impact the brand and its output?
It affects absolutely everything in the label. I decided that I want to have a qualitative result in my designs and with a very precise soul. For this, I need to produce less, giving wealth to the details of the clothes. It is a job where I need to be very patient, as I do almost everything alone in Paris and reconciling with another profession at Cartier that is also important in my life. My brand has some pieces that are unique and that are not repeated, are intended for a precise customer, they are also image pieces. Other creations are equally well worked and complex, but with a little more of a production scale, which will be executed by a team of seamstresses in Brazil. And there are also the key pieces of the collection, with less embroidery but with impeccable finish and that are part of my brand’s wardrobe. They are classics that I repeat collection after collection changing fabrics, colours and other details. My production is still very small in general, I work as I can, combining two different professions.
What can you tell us about the future of Marcello De Santis?
Especially in times as uncertain as the ones we live in, I can’t talk about the future of my brand because I honestly don’t know. I believe that even large and medium brands do not fully know their future. In moments of transition such as the one we are experiencing, there are also opportunities, such as showing a work that thinks in line with the times we live in. I’m just starting out in Europe but I’m eager to show a job well done and full of truth in what I do. For now, what I can say is that the pace of the brand is slow, which is not necessarily bad, as we all need to rethink the new role of fashion post-COVID 19. The world will change and so will fashion. In my case, as an independent designer, I will need to seek new partnerships and investments to make my brand take off. I hope to continue to have the strength to produce my brand, help the needy seamstresses in Brazil with whom I work and continue to set a good example for other young people who want to work in fashion but in a conscious, responsible, and ethical way.
all designs. Marcello De Santis