Most clothing designers fabricate escapist fantasies into physical form, generating collections that play and prey, on people’s desire to achieve social acceptance, status and sex appeal. Miguel Adrover is more interested in offering his clients the opportunity to embrace an ideal of individuality. His creative philosophy is rooted in an expansive and generous view of global reality, one that embraces the common man and woman’s everyday actions and appearance.
Born in Majorca, Spain, of mixed Arab and Spanish parentage, Adrover has been a clothing designer for the past ten years. He has lived in three different countries and traveled through many others. Although he currently resides in New York City, Adrover is more accurately described as a citizen of the world.
His irreverent approach to institutional fashion has generated feverish press coverage from his first show, which dramatized the plight of the Manaus tribe, victims of American industrial expansion into their homeland within the Amazon jungle. The following season his career took flight with his tongue-in-cheek remix of corporate luxury logos into the poetic presentation of his signature, avant-garde-influenced sportswear. The collection coincided with a moment when the fashion world was obsessed with branding and when established names such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton were enjoying unprecedented financial success. Adrover’s ability to keep one finger on the pulse of the fashion moment, while simultaneously subverting that moment to his own stylistic message made him the enfant terrible of American fashion. A few months after his season-defining collection he was acquired by the Pegasus Group, a venture capitalist group seeking to compete with LVMH and the Gucci Group on the global fashion stage.
Expectations for his next collection ran high, perhaps unreasonably high considering that Adrover was still a fledgling designer. Reports began to emerge of intra-company conflict between Adrover and his corporate minders. They sought to tame his signature irreverence, the very quality that had made him so desirable in the first place, in order to meet their bottom line. In the end, Adrover’s history with Pegasus was determined by factors far more fearsome than corporate greed.
In February of 2001 Adrover presented his Egyptian collection, inspired by a sojourn in Egypt during which he immersed himself in the native Bedouin culture. Reactions were dramatically divided, with many editors protesting that his collection was too literal of an interpretation, not to mention sexist, even misogynistic. Seven months later, one day into the beginning of the next round of New York Fashion Week, the World Trade Center attacks occurred. Suddenly the stakes surrounding Adrover’s collection were much higher. Retail orders were cancelled, editors balked at lending his collection press coverage, and finally, Pegasus abandoned him. Miguel Adrover, once fashion’s favorite new face, was discarded as quickly as he had been embraced.
Flash forward two and a half years later. Adrover has taken stock and reestablished his business. Awake to the harsh realities of the fashion system, he is doing things differently this time, but true to his nature, he’s still doing them his way. Self-financed for the moment, he shows Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer collections at the same time, once a year, in a massive runway presentation. He continues to fill private orders for the coterie of private clients who remain devoted to his painstaking craftsmanship and innovative aesthetic. He persists in his pursuit of an alternative to establishment Fashion. And he continues to speak with passion about the things closest to his heart: people, clothing and the possibility for change.
Bidoun: What were your initial impressions of the Middle East, following your trip to Egypt?
Miguel Adrover: My visit to Egypt was something very special for me. Living in an Occidental world and going to the Middle East was a big culture shock. I saw the differences between what we have and what they have… in many ways I think we’ve lost a lot of our humanity that they still have.
Bidoun: What inspired you to create a collection based on the region?
MA: Most of the time fashion is only based in the Occident and kind of rules the rest of the world. It was a way of expressing what is another culture, what is another religion, what is another way of living, besides where we live. By that point also there was such an overdose of sex all over the world. I saw sexuality in the Middle East in a very different way than the way we see it. I tried to show another way of dressing. Bidoun: How did you see sexuality expressed?
MA: I see it as being a little more pure. Not as exploited. In the United States and the Occident, sex is like Coca-Cola. It’s very easy to get, it’s just about going to a bar and having a drink and having sex. It’s not very difficult but at the same time we’ve lost the purity that sex can give to people, the intimacy. We’ve made it into something we can buy and sell. But at the same time, in Islamic countries, sex is controlled and manipulated too. There’s some good things in both places…I think it’s more about taking the good from both places and finding a way to mix it up.
Bidoun: Your Egyptian collection met with mixed reviews. Some editors loved it, while others found it to be too literal. Then several months later September 11 happened and all of a sudden it was seen in an entirely different context. Were you aware of a sudden shift in people’s attitudes towards you and the collection?
MA: Oh yes. I think it was pretty normal though. It would be the same thing if I had done a show dedicated to the people of Iraq before we went to war.
Bidoun: So, it wasn’t the styling or the presentation?
MA: No, just the timing.
Bidoun: How much of a role do you think that collection played in creating business problems for you? Do you think if you had shown a different collection things would have played out differently?
MA: Oh yes. But I think the honesty of our work always interests people, because we don’t try to please people to make the business people happy. But at the same time we don’t take so many positions. We just put the characters out there and let the people judge, while making sure to be respectful of the cultures and characters that we are representing. The way we work is very based on the way we live today, and what is the situation on the planet and what the newspaper is talking about. It’s not based on trends, or bohemia or the ’70s or the ’80s. It’s not based on Brigitte Bardot. Most of the time it’s just based on reality and the moment in which we live.
Bidoun: Mixing up cultures seems to be a goal of yours. How is it possible to impact the world with clothing?
MA: Well because I think that clothing and advertising campaigns are some of the biggest communicators in society. They manipulate new generations to take them in the direction they want, to consume the products they are selling. I chose clothing to express myself. I’m trying to say things that people who work in fashion are not usually trying to express. At the same time I think fashion, as a system, has lost some of the power it used to have. Before it was more related to normal people, to the people who live in the street… there was a communication. Now it is so much more about status. You need to have status even to think about it really, and to buy it. What I’m trying to do with my work is to embrace people who have never been represented and to give voice to people who have never had a chance to talk. I take advantage of my situation to try to speak for people who don’t have a flag, and maybe who don’t want a flag.
Bidoun: But to whom are you really speaking? Aren’t the only people who can afford to buy your clothing rich by definition?
MA: It doesn’t matter. The people who inspire me are being represented already. They are being embraced for the way they are. A woman working in the country in Egypt, carrying things on her head, I know she will probably never be able to afford the clothing, because the workmanship and fabrics make it very expensive. But you will see it on the catwalk, and maybe when you see that woman in real life you will pay some attention to her. Maybe you will see her individuality. It’s not about who is wearing more expensive stuff… it’s about style and individuality, and you cannot buy style. Society has been so manipulated by fashion that it has made us lose control of our sense of ourselves. We feel like if we don’t have the right outfit or bag then we aren’t good enough to participate in certain activities or go to certain places. I’m trying to reverse that.
Bidoun: Besides just representing them do you see other more concrete ways to change things through fashion?
MA: Of course. I would like my customer to be socially and environmentally conscious. There are many disasters in our world, and I’d like to dedicate part of my work to try and make things better, or at least to make people aware of what the situation is. People think that maybe this isn’t possible with a global business, but I think it is. I think that business is related to humanity… they’ve been separated for a long time but I think people realize that we need to change a lot of things if we are going to continue. What is fashion really about now? It’s almost totally superficial… most of the time there’s nothing to touch because it’s just an illusion. It changes so quickly… it’s so frivolous and so capitalist, that it isn’t even that interesting.
Bidoun: Well, that’s not necessarily true. There are several designers who are successful who work at hard at evolving certain aesthetics and ideas.
MA: Maybe. Let’s talk about Dior for example. What is Dior doing for society? Most of the time people just embrace their own empire and their own label..they don’t embrace the people or individuality. I don’t want people to dress like Miguel Adrover. I want people to dress like who they are.