The bare stone walls and heaps of woollen scarves at this Catalan Fashion Designer’s HQ wouldn’t have looked far out of place during the industrial revolution, when Miriam Ponsa’s grandmother owned a thread-mill right here, in Gotico. But it wasn’t until 2000, after graduating from a Fashion & Fine Arts degree at Southampton University (UK), that Miriam decided to honour her family roots by setting up a business on the same site.
Past and present
The store is located on a busy thoroughfare in Borne, one the city’s oldest districts with a history of textile trade stretching back to Medieval times. Small and sparsely decorated, the latest collection hangs from heavy, antique rails; exposed brick-work and vintage furniture transport you to another era. It feels expensive, as if the production of each piece owes itself to generations and generations of highly skilled artisan craftsmanship.
Hailing from Manresa, a small Catalan town on the outskirts of Barcelona, Miriam is a bright-eyed, elfin thirty-something with a lot of energy. “I started the label because I couldn’t find clothing I wanted to wear for myself,” she tells me. “I felt ready to show my creativity to the world.” And so Miriam Ponsa, the brand, began.
In December 2007, Barcelona és Moda propelled this label into the spotlight by awarding her Best Up-and-Coming Fashion Designer. Hiring world-famous models such as Miranda Kerr and Jon Kortajarena also helped to garner press attention and the label has since won the 080 Barcelona Fashion award for Best Collection several times, most recently for the Spring/Summer 2015 collection.
Research and imagination
“As a small team, fashion offers us the opportunity to adapt and refresh our ideas – it’s a very fast-paced industry. We don’t work on long-term projects because we have to press reset every six months,” she tells me. The small team is constantly researching and re-imagining; from cultural context to traditional weave processes, identity, belonging and displacement are a driving force for the label.
Miriam Ponsa based her Spring/Summer 2015 collection on the “mule women” of Melilla (in Catalan, Dones Mula) who risk their lives by transporting heavy bags between the borders of Morocco and Spain. It’s physically gruelling, life-threatening work. Braids, laces, straps and knots symbolise the ties binding these women to slavery, skilfully reimagined into dusty box rucksacks, silk headscarves and thick leather shoulder straps. White and ochre silk jackets are covered in silk-printed 3D geometric squares in a nod to symmetrical arabic designs. The team is highly skilled in diverse traditional crafts such as basket weaving, macramé, upholstery and silk screen-printing.
Ancient techniques, modern technology
“I’m passionate about researching and reinterpreting artisan techniques.”
The team often combines ancient techniques with experimental technology, such as dripping and marbling applied to latex. “I love experimenting with difficult materials in the studio – wood and latex are my fetish objects!” She purposely restricts the use of colour in each collection, instead choosing to highlight the unique tactile qualities of each material through technical expertise. “Details are so important; from the type of fabric, buttons and zips, to the colour, accessories and mood of the show.”
The natural world also inspires Miriam (not least because she owes her success to the use of cotton, wool, satin, linen and silk) – don’t be surprised to see the odd honey-comb covered bee-keeper or mushroom picker strolling down the catwalk. The combination of pared-down practicality and aesthetic beauty nod towards the Bauhaus and Modernist design, too.
For Miriam Ponsa’s Fall/Winter 15/16 collection, exiled Franco-era Spaniards march solemnly down the catwalk. Electronic music echoes through a cathedral-like hall as a pale man emerges from the darkness with waist-length auburn hair, bedecked from beret to brogue in black. In other shows, sensual sherpa arrive cocooned in dense felt and heavy denim overalls weigh down tired industrial workers.
Storytelling is Miriam Ponsa’s lifeblood and her catwalk shows breathe drama. “Textiles enrich and inspire each journey I take but above all, my primary objective is to work with the highest quality material, at the highest possible level of creativity.”