Designs by Paul Perez at Brighton Fashion Week (photos by Malcolm Tam)
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Rock the catwalk: an interview with Gibraltarian fashion designer Paul Perez

Paul Perez has been tipped as a rising fashion star. We talk design inspirations, life in the industry, Gibraltar’s young creative scene, and why he thinks the Rock makes the ultimate backdrop for a photo shoot

What inspired you to pursue a career as a fashion designer?

I started becoming interested in fashion and the industry when I was younger. My main inspiration came from my grandmother, who used to sew clothes for many members of the family. I used to steal her threads and needles to copy her, and since then I’ve always had an inclination towards fashion design. Along the way, I’ve been highly influenced by individuals who have helped me aspire towards my goals, be it via the Gibraltar youth services or tutors and technicians at university. 

Did you attend art or design school?

Gibraltar is a small place so I was forced to pursue my studies abroad. I attended The University of the Creative Arts in Epsom. The experience was exhilarating. I was exposed to a world I found previously inaccessible while living in Gibraltar. I was taught by some highly respected individuals who showed me how to nurture my talents and help me find my path in the industry.

What sort of “woman” do you have in mind when designing?

All my designs are based around my muse, a sort of “global nomad”, per se. An ageless woman which is unafraid of making bold choices, she is young but considerate of what to wear for specific occasions. She’s an eternal traveller, so as she explores different cultures she grows in character and style. I would hope that in each of my collection there is something for everyone, for all occasions. 

What or who do you draw the most inspiration from?

Being Gibraltarian has had an influence on me, mainly due to my location in the world. Gibraltar borders Spain and has Morocco and Portugal in close proximity. Plus, Gibraltar is naturally a very culturally diverse place, and that has helped me stay inspired. I’m obsessed with research into fringe cultures and the idea of utopian societies. Those are my main influences. 

Does Gibraltar have a fashion scene?

Gibraltar has never really had an established fashion scene, but in recent years it has progressed and now has an annual event that focuses solely on fashion – Runway Gibraltar. That has been a game- changer. Most of the Gibraltar-based designers are young and full of promise. Currently, I offer a form of mentoring to help young hopeful students realise that fashion is a viable career. I can only imagine other local designers are doing similar projects to pass on the skills that can only be learnt through experience. The fashion scene can only grow bigger and stronger. 

You’ve done a few photo shoots on location in Gibraltar. Does the Rock make a good setting for a fashion spread?

Gibraltar is unique in terms of backdrops, it offers countless grounds for many different styles of shoots. It’s a small place, meaning you can use industrial settings, beaches and forests all within the same spread and shoot everything in the same day. In that respect, I think Gibraltar offers the best setting for fashion spreads. It’s one of the qualities that is so alluring to me about the place.  

You’ve just shown at Brighton Fashion week - very exciting. What’s been the hardest thing about breaking into the international fashion industry?  

Generally, getting into anything outside of Gibraltar is a challenge due to the constraints of living in a small community. The main issue is the fact that media coverage is harder to come by, and normally local if that. But having said that, I have found myself very fortunate to have been given media coverage internationally via competitions and shoots which have helped me create stronger contacts in the industry. 

What are the opportunities like for young creatives in Gibraltar today?

I find that the arts in Gibraltar have been neglected for many years, and only recently have people in the community started to shed light on alternative art forms (beyond fine art). Unfortunately, it has been a common understanding for artistic and creative individuals that you needed to move to a major city in order to be successful. This idea has started to change. The international arts festival is growing each year, and with events such as Runway Gibraltar people are able to try out new things. My personal hope is that this goes from strength to strength.

What advice would you offer to other aspiring fashion designers?

I would tell them the truth; the life of a fashion designer is a hard but fruitful one. It never really gets easier. And don’t get comfortable, because if you do, it means you’re not pushing yourself enough to get the best out of your own talent.

The fashion industry is not for the faint-hearted, but if you do follow it you’ll meet some of the most interesting people out there. Fashion designers work hard and put their hearts into all that they do, and that’s both the best and worst feeling. But for now, I think it’s always worth it.

[All photos by Malcolm Tam] 

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar and Europe: caught in the slipstream?

The British papers are full of who has the lead in the European in or out campaigns – Guy Clapperton considers the fallout for the smaller territories

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no clear pattern emerging in the Europe debate, as long as we understand “Europe debate” to mean whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. This week alone we’ve seen Boris Johnson “warning Obama off” (as the BBC put it) getting involved in the debated, the same London Mayor and MP having a radio spat with Chuka Umunna involving telling each other to man up and various insults traded as either side accuses the other of scaremongering or making it up as they go along.

Divining who’s going to win is more difficult. The Daily Telegraph reports that “out” has it by a tiny margin but, crucially, the anti-Europe vote is likely to be more motivated so will actually show up on the day, expanding the margin by which it will win. Meanwhile the Times’ daily Red Box email points to Elections Etc. whose research suggests a 58% “remain” vote but with a plus or minus 14% error margin; so somewhere between 44% and 72% will go for staying in the EU. This, readers will note, tells us precisely nothing.

So the outcome, even if there weren’t 100 days in which Presidents and world leaders will offer counsel, claims and counterclaims will be made and the “leave” campaign will eventually decide who the official “leave” group actually is (there are two factions at the moment, doing the best impression of the Monty Python Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea that they can manage), we wouldn’t want to call a snap referendum even if it were to be called this afternoon.

What’s clear is that the outcome will ripple beyond the British mainland’s shores, and the ramifications of an “out” vote are already being felt on Gibraltar. Anyone doubting this should check today’s Times (subscription required), in which the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo highlights recent Spanish statements about what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Spain actually caused a few eyebrows to raise and some other people to panic just a little with its recent statements. Essentially the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, suggested that there would be conversations on the sovereignty of Gibraltar the “day after” an announcement of a British exit, according to the Daily Mail and other reports. He also said (much, much further down the report) that he didn’t want Britain to leave: “God forbid” is the phrase he uses.

He raised the idea of joint sovereignty once again more recently, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle, this time suggesting that if Britain leaves Europe then Gib could do what it nearly did (he says) in 2002 and start transitioning towards Spain. This is an interesting definition of “nearly” when 98.48% of the electorate actually voted not to do so, but remaining British when this might exclude the Rock from Europe would inevitably raise different issues if not a different final outcome.

Outside Gibraltarian interests the effect could be more severe than that. SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made no secret of her wish to make a fresh case for Scottish independence. The once-in-a-generation referendum on this was lost in 2014 but should Britain exit Europe with a majority of Scots clearly demonstrating that they want to stay in, the case becomes stronger (although the collapse of the oil price would blow the original blueprint out of the water).

So we could end up with Scotland as well as Gibraltar wanting to remain in Europe while Britain made its exit. Whether this would be legally possible if both stayed tied to Britain is untested as yet – and with Spain eager to enter talks the day after an exit is agreed but the Gibraltarians implacably opposed to becoming Spanish, the way forward would not be clear.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.