A Look at the Portuguese World


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A briliant mind behind the stage

Written by  yvette vieira fts luis belo, rodrigo de sousa, filipe ferreira e bruno simão


José António Tenente is one of the most important names in fashion made in Portugal, his collections were always awaited with great expectations at Moda Lisboa, until there was a moment when he gradually switches from the spotlight of the catwalks to the stage lights and has never stopped ever since.

Why did you leave the fashion collections to dedicate yourself to costumes?
José António Tenente: This change has been a gradual process, and it seems larger because it has to do with the fact that I stopped producing, presenting and marketing collections. However, the creation of costumes always interested me, and I started experimenting with it in 1990 with Shakespeare's “King Lear” for the Cascais Experimental Theater (TEC). From then on, I worked punctually in this area, but in parallel with my activity as a fashion designer. At this moment, I do not see myself in the unbridled pace of the market and the “rules” of what become fashionable, especially in recent years. Creatively ceased to make great sense to me. Fashion has very definite rules and if they are not fulfilled, it is better to go do something else. Possibly my tastes have led me to see in this other area of creation an excellent alternative. The performing arts, theater, opera, music have always been part of my references, many of my collections were inspired by them, and now they are themselves the source and object of my work.

Is there a paradigm shift in the JAT brand? Since there is only one collection eyewear, writing and perfumes?
JAT: My activity in fashion remains in these lines that you mentioned, also in punctual projects and in the personalized service in the showroom for clients who look for us for special occasions, as it already happened.

Recently you had a retrospective of the work you developed as a fashion designer, where you presented some of the most outstanding pieces of your collections, in Mude, what reflection you do of this course with more than 20 years?
JAT: Time flies. Now to answer your question, I realized that almost seven years have passed since this exposition. In fact, the project started from the fashion collection of Mude, from my reading about it and from the links that I established with my work. It had a more retrospective character because in fact the selection I made of the pieces José António Tenente went through a great part of my journey. The context of fashion in Portugal when I started had nothing to do with the current reality and therefore I took steps that I would not even dare today (laughs). There was, in fact, room for some degree of amateurism and unconsciousness, which fit into a setting in which everything was starting and not today, given the huge change in the market. As you can imagine over all over the years there were good and less good times, but all of them were important for professional, personal experience and maturing. Now, with this distance, I have the notion that I built, although not always consciously, a course marked by a very personal perspective and with a proposal in the national fashion panorama.

Are fashion collections and the return to “Moda Lisboa” off the horizon?
JAT: You cannot say never, but for now, I do not see this possibility on the horizon.

What are the differences between creating a fashion collection and costumes? What aspects should be considered when designing pieces of clothing for a show, or play?
JAT: These two strands even have a lot in common. The creation process can be identical from inspiration to execution, through research, selection of materials, and development of proposals. In both cases, ideas can come from various sources, and in the creation of costumes, especially in theater, for me the text is almost always the first reference. However, we must consider that we are being directed by one or more creators, theater directors, or choreographers in dance, and it is they who will say what they want for the show, their perspectives, their regards, what they mean by that work, and that's what will guide the whole team. In the case of dance, the process can be very similar, even if there is not always a concrete text or narrative. There are cases in which the directors, or choreographers, are very open to the proposals of the various elements of the team, others in which they can provide at the outset several references, images, and directives for the developments in the respective areas that make up the show.

When do you create pieces for a ballet what aspects related to the body must be aware of? And is the fabric also important in this context?
JAT: Dance is par excellence the art of the body in movement, despite all approaches and different concepts according to the respective authors. For this reason, it is the movement itself that will dictate the "rules of the game". There may even be cases where the idea is even to hinder movement, but it is always from it that everything begins. I watch the rehearsals, I try to follow the processes of creation of the works, when they are new plays, and from there I perceive what is being done and I begin to imagine the best forms, the most suitable materials. Tendentially lighter, more comfortable materials that allow greater flexibility of the body, will be the most indicated, but there may be exceptions, depending on what is intended for the image.


For the costumes of a historical play like "Richard III" is there a survey that must be done earlier in terms of fabrics or even clothing?
JAT: What determines the work a lot is the result intended by the director for the whole of the show. In the specific case of "Ricardo III", I could have done a research that covered historical references, other productions of the play, but mainly images that had to do with the imaginary that the whole team decided to work. In that case, the reconstitution of the era was out of the question, and all the work was oriented in a somewhat punk rock aesthetic, with very contemporary references, mixed with other more theatrical, with historicist touches, but without the concern of historical rigor. We had in the composition of t-shirts and other costumes of urban casual wear, but also covers and dresses long in brocades, silk velvets or embroidered satins.

When you develop a large project, how do you design a costume for a big cast?
JAT: There may be several situations that will have to do mainly with the number of characters. For example, in the last great production for which I worked, "La Bayadère", at the end of last year with National Company of Ballet, the cast was very numerous, and with several characters. However, there were also many groups that had a common wardrobe or slight variations of it. The most difficult is to be able to define everything at the beginning, to select the materials and their variations and then to adapt to the various bodies and movement, of course. And, unfortunately, the timings are often short for so much work.

In more contemporary plays like "Find the Sun" and "The Night of Dona Luciana" is there more room for imagination and creativity?
JAT: This relationship is not always very direct. As I mentioned earlier, what defines the degree of freedom is always the idea or reading that the director, or choreographer in the case of dance, makes the spectacle. The creative freedom, in all cases, always has conditions, either by the aesthetic options that are chosen, or by the physicality of the movement, or even specificities of the bodies in question. Some of these constraints can be an additional challenge and lead to more creative solutions.

In terms of direction for the JAT brand, what do you intend to continue to do in a short time?
JAT: For now, and in the short term my goal is to develop more and more this aspect of creating costumes, to be able to work with various directors, choreographers, artistic directors, whose works I admire, or who represent great challenges and keep up the work of personal attendance in the show room in parallel.

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