He grew up in the countryside, near London, and it’s not hard to find these two worlds in Archie's work. It’s also not that hard to find Portugal, which has already become embedded in the brand’s identity because it has also been embedded in the designer’s. He came here because he “needed a change, and the circumstances were right”, and thank god he did — even better, he stayed.
At ModaLisboa Multiplex, he presented his first collection for the Sangue Novo | Young Designers Competition. It was October 2018, we were talking about spring 2019, and Archie called it the "Way of Life" in response to British-European politics. In the meantime, the United Kingdom left the European Union, but Archie Dickens did not leave ModaLisboa. In the following season, and the final stage of the Sangue Novo competition, he won the The Feeting Room Award and saw his collection, “Fluxo”, for sale at the concept store.
The brand, launched in June 2018 after the designer finished his masters in Fashion at The Royal College of Art (this after already having a Bachelor's degree in Textiles from Chelsea College of Art), is a dream of knitwear made in Anjos, Lisbon. After Sangue Novo, he went on to Workstation and was one of the Portuguese representatives at United Fashion Lisboa, and even though the future is still to be written, we spoke to Archie in all the possible ways we can conjugate time.
What drew you to Fashion?
I've always been very artistic and grew up in a creative household. On my foundation at Central St. Martins I worked in lots of different fields of art and design and finally settled on fashion and textiles because it provided me with a tangible pathway to visualize my creative process and to create something of value and useability.
And that is the same that appeals to you today? Or did it mutate over time?
Nowadays I'm more interested in the way in which we use craftsmanship. I studied textiles and knitwear design and so I value craft above all. I've been in the industry (whether in education or as a brand) for almost six years and over that time I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of industry behaviour and the usefulness of what we do. I am really taking time to think at the moment about how to move forward and whether the way I work as a designer and what I produce is sustainable (emotionally and in other ways). Fundamentally however, the same does apply now — selfishly I love taking a concept from paper to fabric and then the campaign is the cherry on top of the cake.
Why did you decide to participate in Sangue Novo | Young Designers Competition?
I heard about Sangue Novo through friends, and wanted to apply because it was a make or break moment for my career path - I really didn't expect to be accepted and from then on it's been a whirlwind!
What were your expectations about the competition? Do you feel that they were met?
In all honesty, coming from a fashion school in London, my perception of smaller fashion weeks was skewed. I had never been to ModaLisboa before and I had quite low expectations of Sangue Novo — I could not have been more wrong. From the very moment I had my first Jury meeting I began to understand the professionalism and brilliant curation that make ModaLisboa such a wild card fashion week. At every stage I felt respected and engaged — also suddenly very nervous when I realized this was the real deal (and very embarrassed that I had been so quick to judge).
Given all of this, what did it mean for your brand to be in this competition?
For me, Sangue Novo meant everything. For the brand also. It was the moment I was able to shake off the lack of confidence I had on my masters course and really allow my imagination to open and succeed.
Do you feel that the mentoring during the process gave you useful tools to face the Fashion market?
For me the mentoring was wonderful. It was amazing to meet and get to know Miguel [Flor], Cláudia [Barros] and Alfredo [Orobio] — their support has meant I can continue to move forward. In terms of the fashion market, my brand is difficult because I do not produce more than one sample for each piece, relying instead on the slow fashion market and the quality and artisanal nature of my process.
Is there something you wish you knew before enrolling in this competition?
I wish I'd known that ModaLisboa is the real deal, and I wish I'd known how to speak Português!
Based on your experience, and looking at other young designers that also participated on this platform, what do you feel is the importance of Sangue Novo as a starting point for new talents?
Sangue Novo allows us, as young and inexperienced designers, a nurturing platform to show our full creativity. It is a competition but it never felt like that to me. ModaLisboa guided me through every step of the process and I have learnt a lot — this is important for all of the new talents emerging here.
After Sangue Novo, you presented with Workstation and, this season, with United Fashion Lisboa. How did your brand evolve with these platforms?
My brand has evolved by circumstance more than anything — the collections have been getting smaller as my worries about the climate emergency have grown, and the way that I present changes each time. I miss the catwalk of Sangue Novo but it has been really challenging (in a good way) to have to think outside the box and show something more conceptual and engaging at Workstation.
And do you feel that these changes and, at some extent, growth, were important?
The progression my brand has seen is very important, certainly in the way that I make the pieces because now I create everything myself on my own industrial knitting machine — it's hard work (especially in the run up to the October editions because it's so hot in the studio and its very physical work) but very rewarding and I know I'm going in the right direction.
What were your biggest challenges during this time?
The making is always a big challenge but sometimes just coming up with a concept can be the hardest part. Somehow the collection always ends up having to be made in a month or less and this is really hard for me to achieve on my own — luckily I have had a series of excellent interns who really keep the brand moving!
How do you face the industry and the Fashion system today, and what do you feel is your role within them?
My role is to do what makes sense to me, not to listen to the nagging voices pushing my brand towards something it's not. And also to hopefully inspire other people to make and get their hands dirty more often.
What do you wish would be different, and what do you wish would stay the same?
I wish that humans had recognized the climate emergency sooner and taken real action to stop it. I wish that my creativity would stay with me until I die.
Sustainability has become a huge part of your brand today. Why, and what are you doing to make that happen?
As a human with intelligence, I have had to face the facts and say enough is enough! I only work with either deadstock or environmentally friendly materials and I do not use factories to produce clothes. I don't believe there should be more clothes than we need out there anymore. During Modalisboa AWAKE I presented at United Fashion Lisboa and for this show I decided to use only one model, to highlight the fact we have to try and cut down on unnecessary materials and use only what we need.
How do you see the future of Portuguese independent fashion?
Right now, we are in crisis, but I see the future for portuguese independent fashion very optimistically — If we can stick to the promises that we make to the environment.
ModaLisboa has always been a think tank for different and exciting projects, and aims to connect people from very different creative backgrounds. In your opinion, what are, today, the most exciting projects and creative people in Portugal?
People I love: Constança Entrudo, João Magalhães, Lexsowet, Perky Mary, Cristiana Morais, Maria Martins, Leonor Bettencourt Loureiro.
Projects I love: Generally all cultural associations - we don't have spaces like that a lot in London and it's amazing. I have my studio in Anjos70 so I'm biased I guess.
This interview with Archie Dickens is part of a series of conversations that discuss the impact of the last four seasons of ModaLisboa | Lisboa Fashion Week. Only by reflecting about our route can we know where we are today. Only by knowing where we are today can we build our tomorrow.
Photo: © Ricardo Gomes