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. 

www.paulperez.co.uk

[All photos by Malcolm Tam] 

Maintaining links to the past.
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Gibraltar’s Urban Renewal Challenge

Historic cities all over the world often struggle to maintain the balance between conservation and preservation and renewal and regeneration.

Historic cities all over the world often struggle to maintain the balance between conservation and preservation and renewal and regeneration. The spirit of these cities are heavily entwined in the bricks and mortar, the physical fabric of the old quarters, the town centres of these places which speak volumes about the people and communities that built them and live in them.

Gibraltar is no different other than in the fact that the conservation issues faced all over the world can often be so much more acute and decisions taken more critical due to the land available for development. Gibraltar’s surface area covers 8.4km² [1] and the old town, within the city walls makes up for about 4km² of that- approximately 50%. Therefore pressure on this resource to keep up with change in terms of improved living standards, flat sizes and living space expectations, infrastructure requirements and upgrading, the need for leisure and commercial spaces, parking and access requirements, can all make the rejuvenation of these historic spaces unattractive.

In the campaign for the renewal and beautification of Gibraltar’s old town, the phrase ‘Urban Renewal’ is often used. This is sometimes mistakenly seen as limited to decorating or repairing old buildings but, whilst essential maintenance cannot be ignored, it actually goes a lot deeper than this. The drive for Urban Renewal is about people – it is about creating and fostering environments for communities in areas where they want to live, work, study and play- spaces that people are proud to identify with. Gibraltar has seen a distinct lack of investment in areas of its historic city over the years. The main tourist thoroughfares, the Main Street and ancillary side streets, public squares and large stretches of the defensive city walls have all been subject to comprehensive refurbishment and upgrading programmes since the 1990s, many have been completed with some ongoing and others in the pipeline. In recent years, attention has turned to the Upper Town, a concentration of vernacular buildings, alleyways, steps and streets which wind their way up the natural slopes of the Rock. Described by many as having a striking resemblance to Italian coastal towns such as Genoa and others along the Italian Riviera, Gibraltar’s old town exudes a character of its own, asking for investment and rejuvenation to help it shine once again.

Over the last decade or so, there have been a number of major Government-led infrastructural projects which are acting as catalysts for change and attracting investment into the old town. The conversion of the old civil hospital, which relocated to a new facility in 2005, into a First and Middle School ready to open its doors in September 2015 is a prime example of this. Adjacent to this site, a large complex of early 20th Century Police Officer Barracks are being converted into large family apartments with onsite underground parking and a large plaza and cafe which will undoubtedly become a popular space for parents on the school run.

The investment by Government in infrastructure and access improvements is luring Gibraltarians back into the old town. The beautification of Castle Street, and renewal of infrastructure services down this artery, coupled with the provision of strategic multi storey car parks and the installation of a large open air escalator has made access to the narrow, though picturesque, lanes of the area easier. A private scheme to convert 6 adjacent dilapidated buildings into 21 modern flats was sold out off-plan within 48 hours of their launch.  Other projects in progress in the area are the conversion of a large town house into a boutique hotel and another into a short-stay hotel, as well as a growing number of conversions of long empty properties that had been subdivided over the years into flats, and are now being consolidated into beautiful spacious family homes.

Themomentum is gathering for change in Gibraltar’s old town, but with that there also comes the need to be alert to unsuitable and unsustainable projects such as the recent loss of an historic bakery building just off the Main Street in favour of the construction of a modern 8 storey hotel. It is this type of project that does not seek to maintain the relationship between Gibraltar’s past and its future that we must work to avoid. People want to hold onto real places from their history and collective memories that contribute to their identities. Heritage is an intrinsic part of that. In a place as unique and fiercely proud as Gibraltar, we cannot afford to miss the opportunity.

Claire Montado is the Chief Executive of The Gibraltar Heritage Trust, a non-profit statutory body working to protect, conserve and promote Gibraltar’s heritage. www.gibraltarheritagetrust.org.gi

 

[1] Source: HM Government of Gibraltar. “Gibraltar Geoportal.” www.geoportal.gov.gi (accessed: 20/08/2015)