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Maria Gambina: “The Bloom platform is a master's degree, the best!”
Maria Gambina: “The Bloom platform is a master's degree, the best!”
Maria Gambina is back on the catwalks and at Portugal Fashion, after her career had been primarily focused on teaching Fashion Design. About her return, she says that her label is now "aimed more at the us than the I”. In other words, there's more concern about commercial success. As to her proposals for the 43rd Portugal Fashion, she highlights a bag as an essential item because "its construction, shape, versatility and graphics define the collection at every level”. A reference for many young designers, Maria Gambina sees "the Bloom platform almost as continuing on from a bachelor's degree – it's a master's degree, the best!”. First of all because it is "overseen by Paulo Cravo”, who she believes is "the most complete designer”. 

The Maria Gambina label is one of the most recognised both nationally and internationally. How would you describe this process of brand consolidation, at a time when the digital was not yet a reality?
I think that in the first place, the brand had a very strong and coherent identity. When it came about, it was aimed at a young, cool public who couldn't find anything like it on the market. [It was] a streetwear label, heavily influenced by sport and music.
The fact that it won several national awards – such as two-time winner in consecutive years of the Sangue Novo (new blood) competition promoted by ModaLisboa and, in partnership with José António Tenente, winning the competition for the design and conception of the uniforms for the staff of EXPO-98 – helped give me more credibility and publicise the label. 
Internationally, the Maria Gambina label was in the spotlight several times in one of the best fashion magazines aimed at streetwear, "Sport & Street”. And, through Portugal Fashion, I had several international fashion shows, in Paris, São Paulo and Madrid, and I was on the calendar of Pasarela Gaudí in Barcelona two times in a row. At all of these presentations, the international press highlighted the label. I remember the magazine, "Collezion”, devoting three pages to me, under the title "The Amália Rodrigues of Portuguese fashion”. 
All of this helped in the brand consolidation process.

In a number of interviews with emerging designers, such as David Catalán and Marques'Almeida, your name came up as one of the references in the fashion area. Do you feel that your career as a teacher and designer has had a positive impact on young designers?
I know that David, who came from Spain, chose to study at ESAD because he saw pictures of my exhibition "As saias da Maria” and thought: "That's who I want to learn with.” When Paulo [Almeida] and Marta [Marques] went to CITEX, I wasn't teaching there anymore. But I believe that Maria Gambina was one of the reference names of the school and, without a doubt, [Paulo and Marta] would have been part of the cool, young public the label represented. 
Being a teacher at the same time as being a fashion designer can only be positive. I believe that teachers of Project subjects can only be complete if they have experience in the area. I can't imagine a Project teacher in the area of Architecture, for example, who has never actually built anything… Teaching isn't just what's in the books, it's not just a process of research and investigation – it's a lot about the sharing of knowledge, experience, the ability to guide and find solutions, because we've been through that, because it's constantly with us when we're working on our label or in a project to design uniforms or working in the industry. 
Maybe it's because I love teaching that I'm very dedicated, not just in the classroom. I never leave them alone when they have to hand in a project for a competition, for example. There's a great deal of complicity in the supervision. 
My daughter once joked with me: "For you, the dogs come first, then your students, then grandpa and grandma and finally me”… [laughing]. Not meaning to be pretentious – because a designer, as a student, doesn't create just because of one teacher – I believe that the careers of David Catalán, Tânia Nicole, Inês Torcato, Olimpia Davide, Beatriz Bettencourt, Joana Braga, Rita Sá, Maria Meira and Luís Sandão [they've all been or are in Bloom] would have been completely different if I hadn't taught them and they hadn't studied at ESAD.

Do you feel that the Bloom platform makes a difference in the careers of young designers?
Without a doubt. Apart from being supervised by Paulo Cravo, who is the most complete designer I know. I see the Bloom platform almost as continuing on from a bachelor's degree – it's a master's degree, the best!

Given your experience as a designer and a teacher, what characteristics do you think are fundamental in a new talent?
First, actually having talent and an identity. Then, determination, dedication, passion and a lot of professionalism. 
Also from a teaching perspective, which conditions should be improved on the fashion circuit to facilitate the integration and affirmation of young designers?
Throughout my life as a teacher, and in recent years in charge of monitoring and creative guidance on the bachelor's degree competitions in Fashion Design at ESAD, I sometimes feel that by selecting students for their creative side, sense of responsibility and professionalism, I'm giving them a poisoned "gift”. When we talk about Design only competitions – where you don't have to produce the coordinates (competitions to design uniforms, for example), but just present the project's creative folder and, if you win, monitor the production of the prototypes and approve the final outfits made by companies – I think this is an excellent opportunity, that only takes up their time with extra hours of work outside the classroom, but gives them the opportunity to understand how everything works. However, in most competitions, they have to make a huge investment in the production of coordinates (that poisoned "gift”). And that's where the fashion circuit should come in, not only to help them, but also to integrate them into the industry while they're still students. For example, I'm talking about them having access to innovative, different, sustainable national materials that add value to their projects, or to the companies that can produce their ideas in terms of finishes, washes, dyeing… 
At ESAD, for example, we've had a partnership with the store THE for some years now and that has definitely been an asset. During the first term, [the students] have to put together a mini collection from their creative universe that adapts to the concept of THE. In the open week, there's a fashion show where each student presents a coordinate and THE chooses the winning project. In the early years, only one project was chosen, but more recently, several items have been chosen and then sold in THE shops. And this has only been happening because some companies have begun "opening their doors”, which has made all the difference to the final result of the coordinates. 
The importance of these partnerships is that the students begin to gain a very real understanding of the entire process while they're still at school. In addition to the time spent on the project up to the selection of the final coordinate, they also have to go through a series of phases, from filling in the technical file in minute detail, to the prototype and the entire production process (which very often is not easy) and to meeting deadlines. There can't be any mistakes or excuses. Everything must be beautifully done, with excellent materials, labelled with the retail selling price. It's real! 
Once again, I must highlight the importance of partnerships with the national textile industry. In fact, we have the best [industry] and everybody would benefit from this. On the one hand, it would help young designers to become integrated much earlier into what will be their future and, on the other hand, they would bring ideas and solutions that could take the companies' products further.
It's a huge investment for a student or young designer. And many are left by the wayside: they have no opportunities, no help. Excellent designers, with determination, identity and talent but without support have been lost… We must pay attention and not let them get away.  

After some time away from the catwalks, you're back presenting your collection at this 43rd Portugal Fashion. What can we expect from this comeback? Do you feel that there's a "before” and an "after” for the Maria Gambina label?
Yes, there's a "before” and an "after”. [Now] there's a label more concerned about selling. A label aimed more at the us than the I.  

Which item stands out in your SS19 collection and why?
A bag. Because its construction, shape, versatility and graphics define the collection at every level.

What has the most influence on the universe of the Maria Gambina label?
My universe: what I experience, what I see, what I hear, what's around me and what I feel.

How would you define Bloom in one word?
Future.

How do you see the future of national fashion?
That's difficult [laughing]. In the first place, I'd like to say that there's nowhere else in the world where designers have the opportunity to present their collections at zero cost on platforms like Portugal Fashion, Bloom or ModaLisboa. We're lucky. 
But I believe, because I've experienced it, that if there's no support for guiding a designer's label at the commercial level, if there's no support for how it's communicated, if you don't make partnerships with the industry, you'll end up going around in circles. Some go, others come, some others go and more come…