Lisbon’s fashion and design scene

Stuart Forster heads to Portugal to report on Lisbon’s fashion and design scene.

The Portuguese capital is, in places, charmingly shabby. If you know where to look, you’ll find a lively fashion and design scene in Lisbon.

Built across seven hills and overlooking the broad river Tagus, Lisbon has an easy pace of life. This is an affordable city that rewards slow travel.

The compact layout of central Lisbon means you can explore much of the city on foot. You can stroll from stores such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Prada on the tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade to the winding lanes of Alfama, whose layout has changed little in centuries. From there it’s a short ride by Metro or taxi up to the Park of Nations, built for the Expo ’98 world exposition, and you’ll view architecture that many still describe as futuristic.

Europe’s sunniest capital city

“Lisbon is more and more a city that combines the traditional and the modern,” says Luís de Andrade Peixoto, the director of Moove Up a communications consultancy.

“We are so lucky to have such a cosy city,” he says, citing the Mediterranean climate. Lisbon enjoys more hours of annual sunshine than any other European capital.

“And, of course, the light is amazing,” he adds. The sky over Lisbon is frequently frequently cloudless. Pastel and tile facades plus light reflecting on the River Tagus combine to create a luminance that impresses visitors and residents alike.

Luis Buchinho, named Best Designer at the Fashion Awards Portugal 2012, finds inspiration in the maritime heritage of his country. He has drawn on the mosaic-like design of Portuguese pavements in his work.

“I based my entire collection, Winter 2012-13, on the calçada Portuguese, which is the way our pavements in the cities are built. I love the colours of the stones that are used for the effects; bluish, darkish greys and neutral colours that form a very interesting composition. It gives you an illusion of perspective. If you’re at the end of an avenue, when you look up, the avenue looks endless,” explains Buchinho.

The design also has an elongating effect when worn. Buchinho’s line is sold at Philosophie (Avenida da Liberdade 180).

Shopping in Chiado and Bairro Alto

For more shopping head into the Chiado district where Ana Salazar has her flagship store (Rua do Carmo 87). Salazar is a key figure in the development of Portuguese fashion over recent years and was awarded the 2012 Fashion TV Special Prize. Close by, José António Tenente has his store (Travessa do Carmo 8) while Fátima Lopes, often remembered for her golden “million dollar” bikini of 2000, is in the Bairro Alto quarter (Rua da Atalaia 36), an area popular for bars and restaurants.

Downtown in the Baixo district – whose elegant broad streets and tall buildings date from the late eighteenth century – MUDE, the Museum of Fashion and Design (Rua Augusta 24), has a hip feel and displays a broad school of work, ranging from clothes by leading designers to household furniture and electrical items. MUDE conveys the idea that items we see on a daily basis can be beautifully designed, mass produced pieces of art. Given Portugal’s fiscal crisis it’s perhaps ironic that this museum, which opened in 2009, occupies the former headquarters of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Paulo Piteira is one of Portugal’s brightest interior designers and was recently invited to show his work at the Hotel Palácio Estoril. “I get my vibe and inspiration in the Portuguese traditions and the way they mix with the present,” says Piteira, who drew on historic trade links with Asia to produce designs featuring black lacquer and his Obi-Pillow, utilising Japanese fabrics.

Piteira has a personal tip for anyone interest in art and design: “One of my favorite places in Lisbon is the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. For me it is perfection. It’s an amazing building surrounded by a natural garden full of life. Inside you can see one of the best art collections from all over the world; it’s a fantastic interior design project.” The expansive collection, which can be seen at Rua Dr Nicolau de Bettencourt, includes objects from ancient Egypt to Art Deco style jewellery.

Vasco da Gama Tower

“History and events in such an old nation like Portugal are reflected in the architecture of Lisbon. In my opinion, most of the inspiration of the architects in Lisbon comes from the city itself, its people, and the proximity to the sea and the river,” says architect and director of construction Fernando Seara, who worked on Restaurant Torre T which opened on the 145-metre high Vasco da Gama Tower during Expo ’98. The tower symbolises the billowing sail of a caravel, the type of sailing ship used by da Gama and other renowned explorers.

For many years ships sailing in and out of the docks at Alcantara, the Docas, just west of the city centre, were a regular sight. Today the warehouses have been converted to stylish restaurants. The district has a strong industrial heritage, something celebrated at the LX Factory, a space now utilised by architects, photographers and other creative businesses.

LX Factory and industrial space

“I would call the atmosphere and setting of LX Factory ‘industrial chic’. It mixes the feeling of decadence from an industrial era with creative spaces, expansive bookshops and trendy restaurants. You can be surprised by figures of clay babies climbing the walls, some which have graffiti several storeys high or are daubed with enigmatic slogans like ‘debt will tear us apart,’” says Rui Gil, an entrepreneur who helped organise Lisbon Startup Pirates, a workshop aimed at fostering an entrepreneurial culture.

On Sundays handicrafts makers and vintage goods traders set up stalls along the LX Factory’s main thoroughfare. Residents and in-the-know tourists stroll and browse, dipping into the shops and pausing at the cafes.

Lisbon is a city to explore at your leisure and offers much if you appreciate design and architecture.

Further information

For more information about the Portuguese capital, see the Visit Lisboa and Visit Portugal websites.

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