Interview with Richard Braqo
Richard Braqo launched his first collection after winning Parsons Accessories Design Award, sponsored by Cesare Paciotti. The London-based designer counts Madonna and Ellie Goulding as fans, and his sculptural shoes are quickly gaining a cult-following. Richard Braqo's collections are produced in Italy. - Catherine Smith
RICHARD, TELL ME ABOUT LAUNCHING YOUR BRAND. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LAUNCH YOUR EPONYMOUS COLLECTION?
“I decided to launch my first collection after winning the Cesare Paciotti sponsored Accessories Design Award upon graduating Parsons,” said the designer. The prize? The chance to design a capsule collaboration with Cesare Paciotti in Italy. “Launching my collection felt like the next natural step. As I had moved to London to be closer to Italy, I felt the support of new designers was a prevalent, and took the risk in launching my brand.”
YOU MOVED FROM GHANA TO NEW YORK CITY AT THE AGE OF 18 TO STUDY AT PARSONS.
“I did. I also lived and went to high school in Canada as well before moving to New York. Moving to New York was a breath of fresh air. I still consider it home, as most of my formative years were spent there and I feel very connected to the energy and pace of living in the city.”
TELL ME ABOUT WINNING THE ACCESSORIES DESIGNER OF THE YEAR AWARD WHEN YOU GRADUATED PARSONS. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM DESIGNING A CAPSULE WITH CESARE PACIOTTI?
“That collaboration was my first foray into working with Italian manufacturers and third-party product development. Since then, I have gone on to work with other manufacturers and artisans in Italy, and I’ve learned a lot about the components of the design process; construction, communication, outsourcing, timescales, and much more. The quality level is the highest in these areas, and it is always a matter of compromise as a new brand trying to achieve that level of quality with manufacturers that are dedicated to bigger brands; every season is a learning curve."
WHAT SPARKED YOUR PASSION FOR SHOES? HAVE YOU ALWAYS APPRECIATED HEELS?
“Although my discipline at Parsons was women’s apparel, I've always had an affinity for doodling shoe designs. I think because I've always designed with a full look in mind, shoes are a natural part of my process. To this day I sometimes design a full collection with clothing and accessories, and then cull the shoes from that for my collections since my brand is currently focused on footwear.
In regards to heels in particular, I think most people, even if abstractly, have an appreciation for heels. I find most people (men, women, children) have an opinion on heels. It's not always the most functional element of a wardrobe and yet it maintains it's status as sort of enigmatic obsession for both the wearer and the observer – and I find that compelling.”
HOW DO YOU BEGIN DESIGNING EACH COLLECTION? WHAT’S YOUR INSPIRATION PROCESS?
“Typically I start out with a natural instinct that is seeded in things I've imagined, seen, or heard – often from art, music, literature. But as the brand grows, and while the requirements to stay in business exists, I find the design process to be more of a problem solving exercise with careful attention paid to what textures and colors work on the market and how we can source the best possible qualities for the most flattering forms and silhouettes that don't already exist. It, on the one hand, starts out as very vague and celestial and then as I'm putting the parts together to create the collection it becomes a jigsaw puzzle of elements that make sense for the collection, for the kind of clients we aspire to outfit and the overall image of the brand.”
WHO HAVE YOU LEARNED THE MOST FROM IN YOUR CAREER THUS FAR? DO YOU HAVE MENTORS?
“I have to say that I've learned the most from my experience with the artisans that I work with each season. I have one or two industry people that I try to call on for advice, and who support me the best they can when they have the time, but I'm always on the lookout for further mentorship and support.”
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH RETAILERS.
“We haven't had an enormous range of retailers and I am working hard on expanding our stockists list,” said the designer, who in addition to Plan de Ville, was featured in a pre-order trunkshow on Moda Operandi. “I get a lot of positive feedback from retailers, and find that for them to take a risk on a new, fairly-unknown brand can be quite daunting as the market is so saturated, and the bigger brands are ever expanding. It is a very difficult market at the luxury level, but I imagine persistence is key.”
AND YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE FASHION PRESS?
“I have had a lot of great experiences with press, and had support from Style.com when we launched. B. Åckerlund was kind enough to style Madonna in one of my designs for Harper's Bazaar very early on, which was a great milestone. I've had and continue to have great coverage and requests from the fashion press in general, and find them to be extremely supportive of my work.”
WHAT WAS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF LAUNCHING YOUR COLLECTION?
“The most rewarding thing has been seeing my design ideas come into fruition. Watching a design go from concept to sketch, to sampling, and then to a shelf and on a wearer, is the most rewarding part of having launched my own collection. The design process is both daunting and rewarding.”
WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACE IN YOUR BUSINESS? HOW HAVE THEY EVOLVED?
“Of course there are many challenges that I face in the business, from competition to delayed deliveries and late payments, to overstock and plagiarism. The list of challenges is endless and consistent, but I think running a business sufficiently becomes a matter of how to best avoid and maneuver around these inevitable obstacles. I am trying to constantly sharpen that side of my creative brain.”
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU AS A DESIGNER?
“My motivations as a designer are ingrained. I have a natural affinity for design, and I tend not to dwell on a specific outward motivation. Having said that, for me it's a matter of creating something worthwhile that women can connect to and enjoy. I'm drawn to the sense of euphoria a wearer experiences from design. Fashion can be purely aesthetic and superficial, but it's also beatific; and fashion is an industry that contributes largely to the economy, and I definitely want to contribute to all of that.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR RICHARD BRAQO?
“I have long given up purporting to know what is going to happen next but I will definitely keep you informed when it does.”