Charting a creative journey from architecture to fashion and spanning a global takeover from Portugal to the Philippines, Ricardo Preto shows us why he is a designer for and by the people.
The familiar scratch of the lighter sparking to life echoes from the dark corner by the far end of the warehouse-lined complex where the face of a man with a tumble of loosely curled hair in deep thought is revealed from the shadows by the faint and throbbing amber light. He takes a long puff before he pockets the light and begins to speak.
“I was a very tall guy so no one noticed,” he recalls of his early foray into the world of fashion in which he thrives in today with much aplomb. Only 14-years old, Ricardo Preto shuffled from studying architecture in Lisbon to organizing stock rooms and sprucing up the window displays of boutiques in downtown Portugal, consequently observing the behavior of customers, understanding what they wanted to see and how fashion inspires them. “I started doing that because I needed money to buy a motorbike, but my mom didn’t allow it,” he says with a hearty chuckle. “So, I thought of making my own money so she wouldn’t say anything.”
Since then, Ricardo Preto has charted a success in Lisbon and the rest of Europe with his clothes being sold in key cities such as Italy, France, Spain, Poland and of course, the Philippines where his collections are exclusively made available at Rustan’s. He has also developed collaborations for several brands, such as Levi’s, Energie, Nike, Miss Sixty and Pepe Jeans. His undeniable talent and eye for precision and detail has even earned him stints at Madame Figaro and Vogue. The almost exhaustive creative pursuit has “built him to the man he is today,” he says. “It makes me very complete.” And yes, he was able to buy that motorbike.
THE LEARNING PROCESS
There is an inherent ease to the structure of a Ricardo Preto original. It is a straightforward pair of trousers, yes. But it is made with a strict consideration for the woman who will eventually pick it off the rack and wear it. True enough, his clothes are not only meant to be worn; they are made to be lived in.
“It is made for an actual woman. My world belongs to everyone, and the world of everyone belongs to me,” he says of his exacting thought process when it comes fabricating his designs from imagination to reality. “I cannot say that every season I have a different inspiration. No, I can say to you that the beginning of creating comes from the sophistication, harmony and beauty of the same woman.” This is the same woman that will prefer movement over rigidity on a pair of trousers, this is the same woman with a penchant for pockets on a dress for convenience and this is the same woman who will want to look good but will still want to be comfortable. There is no difference, really. The woman from then and now will want the same thing, just perhaps appropriated for a specific point- of-view, lifestyle and an uncompromising circumstance. “Style has no frontiers,” he reasons. “The same person who wears my clothes has the same lifestyle here. It’s the same kind of woman everywhere.”
This is precisely why feedback is important to him. “It’s good for me to understand what the people want, how they want to dress, what my clothes give to them,” he says. “So, there are a lot of things that I can learn from my customers.”
BY THE PEOPLE
It isn’t just the commerce of fashion that keeps Ricardo Preto in tip-top condition today, which is something he is attuned to as he was able to grow his brand from the shores of Portugal all the way to the Philippines, perhaps even further solidifying the relationship between the two countries with a long- shared history together. This makes his growing partnership with Rustan’s even more special, he says. “With 65 years of experience, Rustan’s know what they are doing in fashion. I am very proud to work with them and we have many projects together.” The collaboration has spanned several seasons of Ricardo Preto Exclusive for Rustan’s, as well as U by Ricardo Preto, a sub-brand that brings the working relationship closer than ever. “And with this private collection I am doing exclusive for Rustan’s, nobody has it. Not even Portugal or Italy,” he reveals. “This year, I took the Ricardo Preto Exclusive for Rustan’s in the Men’s Fashion Week in Paris where I presented for the first time.”
The connecting thread that seams his work in Portugal and the Philippines to the cumulative creative journey he has embarked on since the beginning is a sense of pride that isn’t boastful. It is quiet, assured and confident, much like the collections he consistently presents. What it is, we begin to examine, is a more cerebral and spiritual affinity for the process and the people that inspires his work. “Clothes are the closest things to us,” he mulls. “It’s the one thing we put against our skin and we stay with that from morning until night. It is more than an exercise of style. It’s something to help you feel more comfortable, more secure and strong.”
Ricardo Preto takes a long drag of his final stick of cigarette and looks over to the traffic that is beginning to thicken and spill over the city’s vein-like network of streets. “It has been 15 years since I debuted and have been accepted as a fashion designer by the people,” he says with a deep inhale before gently snuffing out the light from the cigarette on the ground. “It is amazing. I am feeling very proud of my work.”