Lena Santana’s Leading A Homemade Clothing Revolution
The Lady Leading a Homemade Clothing Revolution
A fashion designer who doesn’t read fashion magazines, and a Brazilian who doesn’t “do” beaches – it doesn’t take much to realise that there’s a lot that’s different about Lena Santana. And we mean that in a good way.
Born in Salvador, educated in London, and wisened-up in Rio and São Paulo (where she went from dancer to actress to artist), Lena launched the book One Piece of Fabric in the UK last month, and it’s selling like hotcakes. And it’s no wonder; with 15 simple but pretty patterns to make your own clothes and accessories, this is a bible for recession- and eco-friendly chic, and for anyone who, like me, thought sewing classes at school were a waste of time and has regretted it ever after.
“I do fashion: I don’t do beaches,” she explains, laughing. “In most of Brazil, life revolves around the beach and all of the clothes are tight and skimpy. Those aren’t the sort of things I make. I make elegant, well-made clothes; clothes for women.” Hence the book’s loose-fitting skirts, camisoles and culottes with delicate floral print suggestions that are more Provence than Praia. But Lena’s project is about more than just promoting a different style of clothing; it’s about resurrecting a dying craft.
“No-one in Brazil learns to sew anymore. To be a designer in Brazil you don’t have to know how to sew,” she laments. “But how are you meant to explain to a seamstress what you want them to do, if you don’t know how it’s done? I think that’s the problem with Brazil. That’s why there are all these clothes that are ugly, strange and tacky.”
Lena’s book is well-timed; it’s a well-acknowledged fact that craft sales actually benefit from recessions, and the UK’s “cottage industry” has gone from strength to strength over the last year or so. “Because of the financial crisis, people are going back to making their own things at home,” Lena points out. “When I was growing up in Salvador, my family had no money – we were really poor,” she recalls. “My mother would buy material and then use our old clothes as the patterns to make new ones. And I used the leftover scraps to make clothes for my dolls.” Even today, Lena reckons her interest in reusable and do-it-yourself fashion is rooted in her childhood.
“All of this ‘disposable’ fashion doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I’d rather be small scale and not make a lot of money. ”
As for inspiration, Lena is a self-confessed material addict: “Wherever I travel, the first thing I look for is a material shop. You can leave me there all day – that’s where I’ll find myself!” JD
by Ana Naomi