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"That time two of my designs appeared on Vogue Italy"

I have always looked up to Vogue magazine for their absolutely stunning editorials, especially the Italy edition, which has the best fashion photography. The whole fashion world looks up to it too, in fact. As a kid, my dear mother, who was a dressmaker and who actually taught me sewing from the beginning,

had a large collection of Vogue Haute Couture magazines which started in the 1960's and which was my bible. Whilst other, "normal" kids would read fairy tales and look and cartoons, I would sit for hours and hours amongst big piles of Vogue Haute Couture magazines and devour them as if they were hot cakes. I would, not just read all the descriptions of each of the beautifully photographed fashion edits, but also would examine each design in detail and try to learn the names of the magnificent haute couture fabrics in the pictures. I remember being around 6 or 7 years old and asking my mother for the name of that metallic floaty gold fabric on one of the designs, and my mum replied: "it is called lamé", ...a name I never forgot, and that got stuck in my little girl's brain like a nail forever not to be removed. "Lamé". I still love it! I was obsessed with the images of those beautiful extravagant garments and wanted to be able to create my own. I would sketch and sketch all the time, trying to come up with new out-there shapes and volumes with mad colours. I would show them to my mum, who would laugh and say: "they are very sophisticated". They were probably rubbish, good mum skills, bless her! Luckily my grandad from my mum's side, was a very talented visual artist who happened to spend absolutely all his free time drawing, painting, sketching, and I learnt as much as I could whilst he was alive. He worked as a draughtsman for the Spanish Minister of Agriculture, but he was also a devoted Catholic man who painted religious imagery for the Catholic churches in Madrid. Some of his frescos are still on walls on some important churches like the monastery of El Cristo de El Pardo church in Madrid, and the Almudena church in North Madrid, which was his local church and where everybody knew him. My grandad was a beautifully artistic and shy man who was always holding a brush, or a pencil, or anything that would spread color. If he was visiting us, he would ask me to borrow my color pencils and anything to draw on, because his urge to draw something was always imminent. He was so obsessed that even during Spanish civil war times, when paint wasn't available, he would draw beautiful imagery with coffee grains, used as if it was watercolour, by dilution in different percentages in water. I in fact own one of his coffee paintings from 1944, here it is:

Religious drawing painted with coffee granules as watercolour, by Spanish artist Manuel Mena, Madrid 1944
Religious drawing painted with coffee granules as watercolour, by Spanish artist Manuel Mena, Madrid 1944

I would not, by the grace of God, even try and compare my artistry with the immense talent that my granddad Manuel was. I am aware of my limitations,

and my grandad was one of the most technically talented artists I know, he could paint anything with anything, basically (even though he chose to mainly depict religious imagery). I can not even exaggerate and make it look like I received proper drawing and painting lessons from my grandad, unfortunately he died when I was a teenager, but he knew I wanted to be a fashion designer and he would point at details of the drawings for me, and let me know what they meant, and would show me how he would draw something that was in front on you. In many occasions, he would make sketches of me when I was unaware and immersed in my readings, and that would annoy me very much. Probably because he would draw me as I actually looked, instead of making me look more glamorous. But then, I was obsessed with the fashion photography in Vogue magazines, and I guess that I wanted to look like that. Not that I ever wanted to be a model for, instance, but I looked at the world through my Vogue-tinted lenses and everything else wasn't worthy of being depicted. And this is a sketch of me at around 9 years old, one of many that my grandad did, this time he asked me to pose and I didn't hide my dislike of posing, as you can tell by my expression. I also got to keep this sketch and it is framed on my wall, I love it, it reminds me of my grandad's artistry. It inspires me. He inspires me.

Silvia at 9 years of age, sketched by grandad Manolo, Madrid 1981
Silvia at 9 years of age, sketched by grandad Manolo, Madrid 1981

A thing I learnt from watching my grandad constantly drawing and painting is that, if you are in for the art, you have to be constant and work hard, never stop imagining, and draw all the time, because you never stop learning and practice makes perfect.

Another thing my grandad told me and that I took on straight away, was that when he came out of art school and went looking for his first job, he tried to become a fashion designer, and applied for a job designing clothes at a fashion house, assuming that with his excellent drawing skills, designing clothes would be easy; and he showed them his portfolio full of his magnificent drawings and paintings, but he wasn't successful, and was told that, even though his art work was exquisite, if he wanted to design clothes, he would also have to learn professionally garment construction and pattern cutting/design. And then he would get the job. But he decided he wanted to draw and not produce his drawings into real life clothes, so he chose to become a draughtsman instead.

His advice was that, if I wanted to become a fashion designer, I had to learn those skills too, and I did listen and started learning bespoke dressmaking at an academy with grown-ups, I was only like 9 or 10 years old and I was going to class with all the adults to learn to draft a bespoke sewing pattern from scratch to someone's measurements, and also how to cut a garment properly and sew it together, and I even learnt some traditional embroidery on the way. I did that for a few years, a couple of hours every evening after school. Fortunately I had the sweetest loveliest sewing teacher, Caty, a warm bubbly woman from Andalusia, South of Spain, who owned the academy and who loved teaching me, as I was so eager to learn. I was one of her youngest pupils ahd she liked to show me off, quite rightly!. Caty learnt the art of flamenco dancing dress making in her hometown, where that art originates from. Flamenco (female) dresses are very difficult to make, pretty much like couture gowns and bridal gowns, and use tens and tens of yardage of beautifully printed cotton fabrics, to create the voluminous "volantes" or frills, which are custom-made with the same fabric of the dress. The frills are then edged with some lace trimming embellishments and are cut out in full circles that link to another full circle, and so on, creating a spiral of circles. They draw these circles with objects like bowls and mugs and even pans depending on the size of the "volantes". These dresses are beautifully constructed to custom fit the flamenco dancer, and they help create the flamenco dance movements, which are so unique, and a big part of the dance is the dress, which swirls and spins with the dancer. These dresses are light, to be able to dance vigorously in them, but also are, on purpose, weighted at the frills, to swirl in the air with the dancer's arm movements. Have you ever seen a (female) flamenco dancer doing their art with the flamenco dress? it is an absolute poem! I was very fortunate to be trained in bespoke dress pattern cutting by a master creator of flamenco dresses, and even though that wasn't what I went in to learn, I saw many flamenco dresses being cut out and made in the sewing department where my lessons were taught, and I learnt lots from that. Maybe that is the reason why I have never been afraid of creating bridal gowns, it doens't intimidate me,.. although it should, sometimes, errrr....I could do with being less brave sometimes, but what can I do? It is my fate to live in a swirl of colourful fabrics which I love putting my scissors to.

I must have been a really good student who was eager to know everything. I myself also teach, so I appreciate the beauty of a good student who wants to learn, who listens and asks questions, who practices what is taught. I have taught since 2003, when I got a nice job teaching fashion design at the Textile University of Donghua in Shanghai (PR China), where I relocated in 2003. I knew that I wanted to teach, but I didn't know that I would actually be a good teacher as well, and that I would love spreading my knowledge to others. I did quit my teaching job after three years, to pursue my passion, which has always been to have my own little business creating bespoke design, but I never fully quit teaching. Even though I tried many times! But I understand that some of my skills are a dying art that needs to be shared to be kept alive, and also, who, if it wasn't for my students, would enjoy listening to me talking about the different ways to move a bust dart to another position? or about the three different ways to cut fabric? haha..!

I think it helps having had excellent teachers all along, so I know how to be a good one myself.

My mum also taught me as much as she could, until I started teaching her instead, basically, because I tried and pack as much knowledge in my brain as I could from as many sources as I could since I was little. So my career was really started that young, when I decided what I wanted to do in life, and focused it accordingly from them on. I did what children do: copy what the grown-ups around me, and from my mother, I copied her always cutting and sewing beautiful clothes for everyone, including me. I would get the fabric scraps, and copying my grandad Manuel, I would go and sketch a sophisticated dress for one of my dolls, which, after passing the approval of my mother, who was the sewing God for me, she would explain how to make it, and demonstrate the techniques on a little scrap of paper, and she would tell me, for instance: "here, if you want to cut a full-circle skirt, just take the fabric as a square, fold it twice and then cut two semi circles on both top and bottom of the square, cut these out, and you have a full-circle skirt with a whole in the middle to fit the waist. Voilá! Magic! I was fascinated by these formulas and the fact that you draw the patterns on a 2D format to fit a 3D shape: "pattern cutting". Still fascinates me to this day and it will never stop fascinating me: numbers and geometry are the basis of pattern cutting, the laws and techniques always work mathematically but can also be re-invented and new ones be experimented and tested until they work too, and that is "pattern design".

Yes, I admit I am a pattern design nerd. I am a geek. and I like it.\\

And now, before I go off on another tangent, let's go back to the purpose of this blog today, which is to tell you about that time when Vogue Italy published two of my designs, and even put their logo on it. Magic does happen for sure. When the super talented photographer Nicola Selby contacted me in 2013 to collaborate on an editorial fashion shoot, I didn't know that those amazing photographs would end up on Vogue magazine. Nicola Selby is a British photographer specialised on dance photography. Her shots are absolutely stunning stills of dancers in movement, and she used to be a profesional dancer herself, so she understands the way the body moves and how to capture that milisecond of perfection with the camera. Her work is absolutely stunning and she has collaborated with great dancers in her career. Check her out:

Nicola, very professionally put a team together and off we went, to the magnificent Astley Hall in Chorley, a country state in Chorley, Lancashire (North of England, UK) which has been there since before the 15th Century and have been through many different renovations under different architectural styles throughout the years, so the style is also quite eclectic but medieval at the same time. The place is incredibly stunning and surrounded by beautiful English gardens and a lake at the front with willow trees surrounding it, I seem to remember. We spent the day there, with Nicola taking pictures with the dancers wearing my designs from a collection I named "The Muse and the Dragon", which I will tell you about another time so I don't go off my tangent again. Nicola chose the right spots for the photographs, they were so many beautiful views of the property and the inside of the mansion, which I was allowed to let loose and explore in it fortunately, whilst the action took place for many hours, and Nicola took lots of stunning shots. Here there are some of them:

These are the beautiful images Nicola captured, and the two images to the right are the ones that got published on Vogue, and they have the Vogue logo on them. Thank you again Nicola for your beautiful work, a 9 year-old Silvia would have never dare to dream of seeing her own designs at Vogue Italy with the Vogue logo on them. The pictures are stunning and totally capture the beauty and the sheen of the pure silk fabrics I used for these garments, and its sensual movement when they are danced in them.

Here there are some pictures I took on the day. I hope you enjoyed this blog! Thank you for reading, Silvia.

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