Off The Beaten Runway: Valencia As A Mediterranean Fashion Hub

What drives the Spanish fashion forward? The legacy of Balenciaga? The omnipresence of Zara? Those 200-million dollar soccer T-shirts? While Barcelona combats overtourism and Madrid is weathering the country’s biggest political crisis in years, Spain’s third largest city is vying for the status of an alternative fashion hub focused on emerging talent. Valencia is known for its paella, oranges, the light in the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla, and its 21st century design ambitions. Last year, Valencia served as World Design Capital. This month it has been officiated into the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in the Design category. According to Econcult, one of the bid partners, Valencia’s design ecosystem is worth 1.7 billion euros and is comprised of at least 1,800 creative companies employing more than 20,000 people. Typically, when cities compete to platform fashion events, local communities benefit from the subsequent economic and cultural boost. Case in point: the rise of regional fashion weeks in the United States or the Scandinavian “streetstyle rivalry” between Helsinki and Copenhagen. Here are three case studies featuring people and projects that envision Valencia as the Mediterranean gateway to the future of fashion.

Mediterránea Fashion Week Valencia

Fashion weeks are difficult to sustain. Many places see earnest efforts come and go with the rotation frequency of fashion trends. In early October, Mediterránea Fashion Week celebrated its second edition. The ambitious title is fitting. The city’s iconic Silk Exchange has been an important Silk Road destination for centuries. Today Valencia’s port is the busiest port on the Mediterranean. There is great potential for consolidating divergent style energies here. The event is organized by ACUMOVA under the direction of Sergio Puig. It has doubled in size to feature sixteen brands over four days. Two designers presented their respective retrospectives at the iconic Plaza Virgen, the geographic and metaphorical heart of the city. Alejandro Resta is one of Spain’s most successful bridal couturiers and his show felt like a destination wedding gone Vogue. Isabel Sanchis reminded everyone why she has reigned over the Spanish red carpet for ages. Both events delivered a fashion experience worth their grand setting.

Others showcased at the Only YOU Hotel. Among the highlights were the monochrome statement pieces by Malne and Carlos Haro, the ultra-feminine “from Ibiza with love” looks by Cary Fragueiro, and the complex textures of GAU. The self-taught wunderkind Jose Perea sent gowns galore down the runway culminating in an azure look crowned with peacock feathers. Felix Ramiro has been in a sartorial bromance with the public since 1988 bringing Pitti Uomo energy to the cobbled streets worldwide. In 2018, menswear dance-off by Oteyza went viral becoming Spain’s most watched fashion show ever. This time, there was more dancing. Well, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Perhaps more brands could benefit from the wisdom of not trying to reinvent the wheel. May the enthusiasm momentum carry #MFWValencia into many next seasons. Double up again in 2024?

Futur Moda

Mid-October fashion enthusiasts head south to Alicante for FuturModa, the historic trade fair of leather, components, and machinery for footwear and accessories. Its fiftieth anniversary edition brought together 190 exhibitors and 260 brands from Spain, Italy, Portugal, and other countries famous for their leather goods traditions. With sustainability reigning as the definitive fashion concept of our times, “all eyes” were on Green Planet solutions. For example, Spain is the world’s largest exporter of persimmons. The Valencian region harvests about 90% of the national crop. Due to the fruit’s delicate nature, as much as half the annual yield perishes at the farms. One local startup saw this agricultural challenge as a fashion opportunity. Persiskin had teamed with the University of Valencia to develop a natural textile from the persimmon surplus. The resulting vegan leather product has been certified by AITEX, the textile research institute. In its first year on the market, Persiskin is working through the Recovo circular fashion partnerships with accessories and footwear brands as it scales up production to meet the automotive industry’s demand for non-leather car interiors. Another local fashion initiative highlighted at FuturModa was Lazaro Project. Under a cute tagline “A factory of second chances”, it champions recycling, upcycling, and ethical textile waste management through a system of clothing disposal bins throughout Alicante, designated sorting facilities and shops. In his presentation, the managing director Jaime Aznar Irles noted that Europe generates about 7.5 million tons of textile waste per year and there is a growing need for innovative approaches to curbing landfill proliferation. Starting the conservation conversation at the level of producers of components and machinery ensures that designers have better options for execution of their ideas.

CLEC Fashion Festival

And now for something different, again. At the end of October, DIMOVA under the leadership of designer Miquel Suay presented the fourth edition of CLEC Fashion Festival in the futuristic setting of the City of Arts and Sciences. This annual event has emerged as the go-to platform for the young, aspiring, and emerging fashion talent in Spain. Participants selected for the group stages must only produce 3-5 looks to try their creative vision in a professional setting in front of “real” media, buyers, and consumers. This democratizes access to the fashion industry. Such an approach could be a gamechanger for any city with reputable design programs. Valencia is home to Barreira, EASD, Valencia Fashion Institute, among others.

Meanwhile, the coworking vibe of the open-floor-plan venue allows for rare networking opportunities with the likes of Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, one of Spain’s most successful exports, and fashion philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky, both recipients of this year’s CLEC Superstar Awards. The runway highlights included neo-punk looks by Protezka, a Valencian brand with Ukrainian roots, handcrafted sculptures by Fabiola Ricci, exquisite upcycling creations by Visori, over-the-rainbow streetstyle cabaret by Modistilla, and the swimsuits by Dolores Cortes who has been pioneering this activewear niche for over fifty years. Valencia-based Argentinian designer Gonzalo Villamax wowed the international jury to receive the CLEC Emerging Designer Award. The jury note stated: “We admired the vision of quiet luxury in Villamax’s work. His craftsmanship proves that minimalism can be a rich experience. The sartorial pleasure is in the details: a masterful cut, a subtle pleat, a flawless stitch. These garments are not gender-neutral, they are gender-welcoming. It’s high-spirit fashion for all bodies, for everybody.” The theme of this edition was Climate Emergency urging fashion lovers to be more proactive in their conscious consumption choices. It is a critical message worth repeating in 2024 and beyond.

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