Headpiece by Shin Murayama for The Believers

Dear Shaded Viewers,

I think "awareness" would be the best word to describe the essence of Javier Barcala's work. The Spanish image maker makes a point of avoiding boundaries and destroying categories. His films, photographs and art projects nevertheless have one thing in common: a desire for change and commitment. He uses the visual arts to communicate the values he defends, such as tolerance, sustainability and education. Javier left Spain to move to Belgium in his twenties and was Designers Against Aids' creative director for 5 years. He now lives outside Brussels and has been focusing on an upcoming project, called "The Believers – Sustainable Future Fashion". Involving renowned and emerging fashion designers, researchers and professors in fashion schools, such as Central Saint Martins, HEAD in Geneva and New York's FIT- as well as other industry players, "The Believers" is an art-meets-fashion creative platform focusing on the future of sustainable luxury and craftsmanship, while offering a new take on fashion consumption. In many ways, the timing seems perfect. The "Great Recession" -as Americans like to call it- has affected entire parts of the Western world and created a longing for new alternatives. Conspicuous consumption is not as hot as it used to be, unless you're begging for Balmain in Azerbaijan. Barcala believes in fashion as an active process, appropriating ideas and identities that can travel across borders, having the impact they deserve. He is a name to watch and it'll be exciting to see how his work develops.

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Emma Lundgren for The Believers

Where are you from?

I was born in 1981 in a small town in Toledo and studied communication and visual media in Madrid. I also took classes in photography and film-making. I think creativity was always something I felt in my surroundings. I've always loved clothes and remember being into fashion as a child. I'm the youngest one in my family and was growing up in an environment that was not so comfortable financially. I have one brother and two sisters. We had a very limited budget for clothing and I got a lot of stuff from my older brothers, which, I guess, was like a blessing for me. I loved it, because it allowed me to wear more things than most of my friends.

You were just on time to collect the sum of everything.

Yes, that's true (laughter). I didn't have that many purchases to make in the end. It was good for me, because it created this craving for identity and made me want to try and find my own style. I was altering my brothers' clothes, adding patches, changing hemlines or improving their fit. I was customising things from a very early age. At the same time, I became very aware of the value of things, particularly clothing. My father died when I was a child and we were always struggling with money. My mother was working in and out of the house to support us and I think the focus I currently have on sustainability comes from that period. I guess I developed an active perspective on things, as opposed to a more passive mode of consumption. I was always busy recreating and appropriating objects, which is something I'm still doing now. I wanted to change the world, find a cure for cancer and save the planet.

Natural born superhero!

Yes. When I moved to Madrid to go to university, I remember discovering fashion stores and a whole world I previously did not have access to. It was a bit of a shock for me. I met a lot of people at that time, media and publishing types. I was very attracted by pop culture then, which was something new for me. I was hanging out with directors, designers and it was a complete change from my previous life. I watched hundreds of films when I was at university and my passion for images became clear. I actually spent more time looking for things to watch in the library than in my classes (laughter).

Which directors struck you the most at that time?

It was mainly the Nouvelle Vague and Italians, such as Fellini and Pasolini. Being in Madrid, I was obviously influenced by Almodovar, too. He was like a constant presence there. His work was quite controversial in the 80s and then he became more established and international in the 90s. In the late 90s, I met quite a few people who knew him and had already worked on his films. Everyone had an Almodovar story to tell and there's still a huge scene around him. I started writing as a lifestyle and music journalist in Madrid, meeting lots of bands and artists. I also worked for MTV, doing interviews and covering concerts. It was a great experience for me, but I realized I wanted to do something more involved and active with my life. I was 22 when I decided to move to Antwerp.

Why did you choose Belgium?

I think it was a different perspective for me, especially for the arts. I wanted to travel extensively and thought Belgium had a great location for that. I enrolled at Antwerp University to pursue my studies and got into the art scene at that time. I was also mixing with people in the fashion world, which is something you can hardly avoid when you live there. I got to know students and emerging designers from the Academy. We did interviews, photo shoots and collaborated on art projects together.

How did you get into photography?

It started mostly with me doing fanzines from a very early age. I did the first one when I was 6. Then I fell in love with photography while I was reinventing clothes, dressing up and writing scenarios for short films and comics. It was all part of the same thing: an artistic expression with a subversive image. As a matter of fact, I never wanted to be a photographer, I searched for action through communication whether it be through photography, film or fanzines. I was attracted by the idea of activism through image making.

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Franc Fernandez for The Believers

Did you actually meet activists in Antwerp?

I think designers like Bernhard Willhelm opened my eyes at that time, because his work was making a social and political statement. I also became familiar with Katharine Hamnett's work through research and looked at the work of Vivienne Westwood and Walter Van Beirendonck. I discovered you could make a statement through the clothes you wear. I actually don't think there's anything frivolous about fashion, it's an integral part of our being and probably one of the most complex and interesting sources of identity. It's about showing who you are, socially, sexually and politically.

Fashion is also about pretending to be something you're not.

Yeah, awful (laughter). You also get the two aspects and fashion has always had an ambiguous and double nature. I'm aware there are labels who use socially responsible messages because it gives them added exposure, but I think even that is a step forward.

Why do you think these ideas gained such prominence other the past few years?

I think the mindset of the consumer is changing and people are demanding certain things in their products. Now more than ever, we are becoming aware of having to make ethical choices in what we consume and companies have to accomodate that.

You've been working on a really interesting photography project called "Fashion Match" with football players. Can you tell me more about it?

The idea was to take these players out of their context and photograph them. I created a setting where they could play with a ball or simply move. I let them perform in front of the camera and rediscover themselves in a way. I also wanted to add a layer of sophistication to their image. I guess I was trying to get them to unveil their feminine side, not necessarily turning it into a gay thing. I wanted to put them in a position they had never experienced before.

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Was it voyeuristic, too?

Well, I wanted them to forget about the camera and not have to pose for me. I didn't want the pictures to feel staged and encouraged them to perform. A year ago, I remember reading a survey about football players in Belgium, where some of the results indicated that people were still not comfortable with the idea of an openly gay member in their team. That was really shocking for me and I honestly thought it was bullshit. For a country like Belgium, it felt very backward. With "Fashion Match", I tried to create an atmosphere where they felt free and liberated. I think that the way football players dress is dreadful.

Have you ever watched "Footballers Wives"?

Once, I think.

It's this really trashy UK series inspired by David and Victoria Beckham. It's very tacky, a bit like Dynasty. When I was in Romania, I saw this team of football players at Bucharest airport and they were all dressed up in black suits and white shirts with patent loafers. They looked like penguins.

There are still areas and places where being gay is a problem and it's not necessarily getting better. The way football players are depicted in the media is oversexualised. It does not feel like it's them and there's still major stereotyping. You see that in ad campaigns for instance. I wanted to get a real sense of who these guys were and what sort of style they had. They were given one-of-a-kind outfits and could play with them. I have to say the guys' responses have been overwhelming. They're always really happy after leaving the studio and many have been calling afterwards, asking if I had other projects in mind. I was very open about my intentions with them and the only thing they really care about is sports, not sexuality. "Fashion Match" also relates to the idea of recuperating and upcycling materials as all the outfits were made especially for this series out of waste material.

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They're actually putting themselves in a context where they can be looked at and objectified.

That is something they love. Still, the images are not overtly sexual for me, they're more about style.

What perspective do you have on the fashion industry now?

From a street point of view, I think it's never been as boring and monotonous as it is now. I'm not influenced by what I see on the street anymore and it's a pity. It almost feels like this idea of the street has gone backwards from what I knew as a child. The creative element has been gradually lost, but it should and will come back. Due to the financial crisis, we are becoming more value-conscious. The way things are made matters more. So does the location of production. Having less money is actually an opportunity to stimulate creativity and rediscover what we have.

Quite a few designers did that in the 90s, which was a time of recession, too. I think Margiela was probably the one who really pushed that, giving a new life to old clothes and using recycled objects as clothing. People were shocked at that time and thought he was taking the piss. Just look at vintage now and how much it costs!

One of the reasons why I fell in love with Belgian designers was their belief in craftsmanship. They are perfectionists who love tailoring and traditional techniques, without the bourgeois aspect. I think Margiela was making a statement at that time, maybe not only about sustainability, but also about being politically incorrect. He was a major tailor, too and his clothes last for decades. People are already buying less now. If they can afford it, they're picking beautiful things that will last longer. That's luxury for me and I think it's the future of fashion.



Philippe Pourhashemi

A freelance fashion writer, consultant and stylist, Philippe Pourhashemi was born in Tehran in 1976. He grew up in Paris, before moving to Scotland to study Foreign Languages. His passions are fashion and culture, as well as music and film. He writes and styles features for Metal in Barcelona, Behind the Blinds in Brussels, Contributor in Stockholm, Veoir in New York and SKP in Beijing. He was named Fucking Young's Editor-at-Large in 2016 and has contributed to ASVOF since 2008, acting as Correspondent-at-Large since 2012. An avid traveler, he likes to explore exotic fashion weeks and unexpected destinations whenever he can.