Everyone knows who Agatha Ruiz de la Prada is, the Spanish designer who, since the debut of her homonymous brand in 1981, insists on making colorful, vibrant clothes with unexpected cuts. But few will know who is the woman behind the irreverent, courageous, unabashed designer. So we asked her to talk about serious things. And more mundane ones...
"All my life I was crazy about museums, exhibitions, art fairs, galleries, but after my divorce something very curious happened to me, a kind of radical detachment from objects. I was always very 'coisista' (which means an object person, as my neighbor Antonio Garrigues would say), the love for objects comes from my father. And suddenly, I had a little anxiety attack at MoMA in New York, I felt anguish, I felt that art no longer filled me... I say this and tomorrow I'm going to the Prado Museum for the first time since the pandemic. Art has brought me a lot of happiness, peace and fun throughout my life, but it's also capable of creating anguish.” Agatha Ruiz de la Prada (Madrid, Spain, 1960) grew up with the desire to be an artist. She didn't dream of being a designer, that was a good thing that life brought her. But, as the years went by, she realized that everything related to art is time consuming and, in a way, frustrating - whereas fashion gives her an “immediate satisfaction.” And this is relevant, because she is not someone to set a step, to waste time. Agatha is a bubble of energy, and that is felt so much in her work - her clothes don't fit any movement or trend, they are just cheerful, different, admittedly out of the box - as in her words. In 30 years of career - most of them spent, ignoring the commandments of the industry, turning their backs on editors and buyers and sending conventions to hell, which, after all, is perhaps the secret of her success, or part of it - has built an empire that lives on both her intuition and her talent. In addition to clothes, there are perfumes, backpacks, pillows, sunglasses, everything that can bring (some) happiness. “All of my products carry in their essence the optimistic message of my multicolored universe. I have always considered my colors and icons as a vehicle of joy. Its objective is simple, but profound. You have to enjoy life and have fun with fashion. Fashion has to add [something] to your happiness and your collective happiness. It must be comfortable and coherent, that is, sustainable and with humanistic intentions. I have been committed, throughout my life, to the importance of environmentalism; from the beginning, I considered it fundamental to my creative process. The wild pace of the market has put it in danger, but now, thank God, we are all realizing that environmentalism and fashion must go hand in hand.” Several times they wanted to portrait Agatha Ruiz de la Prada as a kind of mad hatter who only designs clothes with the colors of the rainbow and throws splinters on everything and nothing. Only there is more, much more, beyond the myth.
When you started, Spain lived in the heart of La Movida, a period of artistic and cultural renaissance in which everything seemed possible. What do you remember from that time? I think the beggining of anything is [always] wonderful, these are surprising days, full of emotion, when you don't know what to do. My beginning in the world of fashion was also my beginning in the world of work, I discovered how to survive, how to start my own company, how people reacted to my work. It was a very exciting adventure, mainly because I was lucky enough to coincide with one of the best moments of creativity in Madrid. I have great memories of those times, I used to say “If this is working, how fun is it to work!”
Your first fashion show took place in Madrid, in 1981. The color and atypical shapes of the clothes caught the attention of the public and critics. Where did the inspiration for creating this peculiar universe come from? Inspiration comes from my life path. When we are children, we feed on what surrounds us, my father was an art collector, I wanted to be a painter and I went through a frustrated architect phase. So it was life itself that inspired me, its mixtures, its dichotomies, the mixture of “comme-il-faut” and the modern, from Madrid and Barcelona, and so many other things that made me what I am today.
In no time your career flourished. Do you consider yourself a pioneer in the industry? No. I would say that the great pioneer of the industry is Pierre Cardin. In another sphere, Philippe Starck and, in Spain, Javier Mariscal. I'm just part of the second wave.
What, in your view, distinguishes you from other creators? I think what sets me apart as a designer is my own identity. My creations are what they are because they reflect me, as Cardin's [reflect] him or Starck's. Each artist is an individual, with his own point of view and inner world. There are many other irreverent creators, such as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, a friend that I admire a lot, but our private journey through the land is not the same and there are nuances in our inconsistencies. Each is who he is due to a multitude of factors, some of which are indescribable.
Have you ever thought of giving up? No, because if I do, where am I going? I wouldn't know what to do. For me, work is very good for my head. My mother suffered from depression all her life and, thank God, I never had any problems. I always associated that with work. I imagine that if I didn't have a job, I would have a headache. The truth is that I prefer to work a thousand times.
Do you usually follow what is up in the industry? Do you see fashion shows, read fashion magazines, buy clothes from other designers? I never buy clothes from other designers. I don't even waste time watching their shows. I've seen countless shows by other creators, of course, usually when I'm waiting for my own to start, but I'm not interested at all. Journalists believe that creators are journalists and not creators, they insist on asking us about other designers. In all the countries I go to someone always ends up asking me what I think, for example, about Transylvanian fashion. I just got off the plane and I know little about the country, how would I know the state of its fashion? Karl Lagerfeld came to Madrid and sent journalists to hell because of this very question. A creator is not pending from other creators,we have other problems.
You have a vast career but, in recent years, it seems to have been reborn. You have received several awards, as well. Do you know why? Is it a desire to never stop, to always want to do more? On the contrary, I would say that this is one of the times in my life when I am working less. There were times when I worked like a dog, worked, worked, worked... But I think that how much you work has nothing to do with the result of your work. Or almost nothing to do. Suddenly someone gives you a prize and prizes start to arrive from everywhere. It can also happen that I have reached an age when, in a way, the prizes correspond to myself. I work the same way with or without prizes. I am very grateful, but they do not change anything.
I read in an interview that colors, for you, acted as an “antidepressant.” Can you remember the last time you dressed in black? Unfortunately, I increasingly wear black. These months have been terrible. I am like my grandmother, who got up every day to see who had died - at noon the dead are announced in Spain, and at seven in Italy. I associate dressing in black with funerals. Although I was also in black when I went to meet the Pope recently. I thought about it a lot, only the queens wear white before the Pope, yellow is a church color, pink is a church color, red is a church color, purple is a church color. In the end I preferred to wear black out of respect. I have always had a lot of respect for the church and the Pope, and besides, the current Pope seemed wonderful to me.
The world seems to be turned upside down. An economic and social crisis is approaching. What can be the role of fashion at times like this? I think that fashion can play an absolutely magical liberating role. After these three months in tracksuits, when people put on a nice dress and [put on] high-heeled shoes, it will give them such a “subidón” that they will fully understand the unstoppable power of fashion.
This issue is dedicated to madness. How do you see the meaning of madness? On the one hand, madness scares me a lot, because I know it. On the other hand, I think I've always been a very attractive person to crazy people. And it is a subject that interests me, in fact, before I was a creator I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I would love to have been a psychiatrist to be able to heal people, but there are times when we cannot heal them and they drag us into madness. As long as it is fun, positive, creative, madness is phenomenal, but when it turns into suffering it can be terrifying.
What's the craziest thing you've ever done in your life? The truth is that I have a lot of common sense, I suppose it is my Catalan side. And I also have crazy genes that I try to control. I would say that everything I do is controlled madness.
On a scale of zero to ten, what degree of ideal madness should each of us have? The ideal degree of madness is one that allows you to enjoy and does not make you suffer.
Throughout your life, you have been adept at dealing with criticism, and with how some details of your private life have been pulled to the front pages of newspapers and magazines. Where do you get the strength to deal with the bad side of public exposure? I lived 30 years with a newspaper director, so I know how to dance intimately with the press, which is fundamental for any creator. I would say that to be a designer, you need to develop three areas: the first is to have your own identity; the second is knowing how to sell your products - which I personally consider to be more complicated; and the third, knowing how to communicate [your brand] - if you don't learn how to communicate, you don't exist for the world in general.
Do you like being famous? When I started my career, in the heart of Madrid, everyone wanted to be famous, the Alaska song in which she sings “I want to be a boat of Colon and be announced on television” says it all. At that time, we did not dream of being rich, but famous. And the truth is, yes, I always liked being famous and meeting famous people. I am a product of my generation.
The side effects of quarantine are still felt - few people on the streets, in stores, in restaurants... What did you learn during that period? How did you live it? I am very lucky to have a house in the countryside that seems to have been designed expressly for the coronavirus, it seems that I have prepared myself for this situation my whole life. On the other hand, I am a person who is very upset to see my freedom reduced, I found this authoritarian part very unpleasant. I don't understand the people who are able to enjoy depriving others of their freedom. I understand the seriousness of the situation, but I think it could have been done with more tolerance.
Are you optimistic about the future? Do you usually see the glass as half full, or half empty? I am an optimist by nature, my grandmother was an optimist. I think that being optimistic is like being short or tall, and I thank God I'm an optimist.
This magazine should come out days after your 60th anniversary. What is your assessment of these first 60 years? What an unpleasant question! I don't even want to think I'm 60 though, on the other hand, of course I love having them. It is much better than the alternative of not having them, because I could have died of anything, including coronavirus, and I realize that it is a privilege. The first 60 years of my life were the bomb, I hope the next 60 will be too.
Do you have regrets? Things you wish you hadn't done, others you wish you could have said... And plans for the future? Just as I inherited optimism, I also inherited bad memory. All my life I was told that in my family we had bad hair and bad memories. It's a great thing for regrets, because I don't remember anything, I don't regret it. My main plan for the future is to survive. I have no idea what I will be doing in five years, nor can I imagine what I will do next year. Life is so incredible, who knows? After all that happened with the coronavirus, I don't think anyone can make plans.
*This article was originally published in Vogue Portugal's The Madness Issue.