Although she’s barely over 30 and has shown just four collections at London Fashion Week, the term ‘young London designer’—with all its connotations of edginess, bedroom start-ups and warehouse after parties—doesn’t feel applicable to Barbara Casasola and her small team working from a studio in south west London.
She’s making me coffee in a blue and white ceramic pot on the stove. “The good things in life,” she says, gesticulating at the bubbling espresso, “take time to make properly.”
“Enough with covering up and pretending we don’t know where things come from. I feel we are heading towards a time where there will be much more transparency. ”
Quality and transparency are at the core of Barbara’s business. She makes her clothing in the same factories as Hermès and her strong production values are reflected in every step of her manufacturing process. “Our supply chain is fully traceable; people want to know what they are buying.” She explains, “Enough with covering up and pretending we don’t know where things come from. I feel we are heading towards a time where there will be much more transparency. If something comes from a good place and is touched by good hands, people will notice it.”
Perhaps this is precisely the reason that those high street retailers attempting to ‘borrow’ her aesthetic miss the point entirely. Barbara’s clothes are not about creating a ‘look’ per se – although they are distinctive and flattering.
“Fabric, fit and finish are the pillars on which she is building her business, components that cannot be mimicked at high street prices.”
Her ethos seems more aligned with designers like Rosetta Getty and Hermès Creative Director Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, women who champion understated luxury by creating clothes to wear and rely on. “There’s a general feeling of simplicity and stripping things down, but without sacrificing femininity or sensuality,” Barbara says.
“For me, dressing well is about trying to let go of control over the silhouette, and just letting things happen. I think trusting those feelings comes from being a woman, but also being Brazilian and more laid-back.”
The result chimes with a growing number of women the world over. “I’ve met so many incredible friends who started off as clients. They’re from all different backgrounds but share similar values and feelings,” she says. Barbara is quick to point out the collaborative effort that goes into each dress. “There is someone who weaves the textiles, another person who dyes the fabric, one guy who makes only buttons, another who does the zips and so on.”
“Fresh out of education, she worked with Roberto Cavalli, although these days she is more comfortable passing time with old ladies in Tuscan flea markets than jet set international travel.”
Raised in Brazil by a Brazilian father and Italian mother, she graduated from Central Saint Martins and Milan’s Instituto Marangoni. Where does she feel her roots lie? “I think in Portuguese, but I talk in Italian at the factories when I’m there.” Fresh out of education, she worked with Roberto Cavalli, although these days she is more comfortable passing time with old ladies in Tuscan flea markets than jet set international travel.
When she’s in Italy she stays at Villa Lena, between Florence and Pisa. A work-life balance for Barbara means enjoying long lunches with the factory owners, nipping back to the villa for dips in the pool between meetings with the seamstresses. “There are definitely long hours and a lot of energy that goes into my work,” Barbara says. “But it gives me so much and that’s the balance. I also try not to overload my diary as the best things are usually unplanned.”
Barbara believes in taking time to build a brand with authenticity. “I’m not scared of repeating something that works when it’s successful,” she says, alluding to her popular long-line tank dresses and tailored jackets, which are becoming house signatures. “So many women don’t know about my work yet and you can only build a brand if you have an identity. This is my way of doing it.”
“I have a vision,” she concludes, “But I’m learning to take my time. I’m not interested in setting an agenda. I know what the end goal looks like, so why rush to get there.”