Andrea Brocca Talks Senanayake, Creating in Quarantine and Learning Through Experience

At just 16, Andrea Brocca became the world’s youngest couturier. Now all grown up and graduating Central Saint Martins, Brocca speaks to Joshua James Small about his graduate collection “Senanayake,” and how COVID-19 left him manufacturing couture from his bedroom floor.

WORDS Joshua James Small
IMAGES Courtesy of Andrea Brocca
MUA Athina Doutis
MODEL Chantal Brocca

At just 16, Andrea Brocca was crowned the world’s youngest couturier – a title previously held by Yves Saint Laurent when he took the helm at Christian Dior aged 21 – and he’s got the Guinness World Record to prove it. From successfully running a made-to-order boutique from his hometown in Dubai to completing a BA at Central Saint Martins this summer, Brocca has since hustled his way into the industry with a back-to-front approach that would be difficult for even the savviest individual.

Today, The Italian-Sri Lankan designer talks from the confines of his duvet about his graduate collection “Senanayake,” and how COVID-19 left him manufacturing couture from his bedroom floor. 

Andrea Brocca Central Saint Martins 2020 graduate collection. Photo by Abdulla Elmaz. Courtesy Andrea Brocca

Given that you entered back into education after gaining the title of ‘The World’s Youngest Couturier’, do you ever think that you were too young to be saddled with a title of such gravitas? 

No. I don’t regret any of my professional choices. I always tell people how I worked in reverse. I worked as a company, then proceeded to a couture school pre-masters. After I continued into a foundation, before going on to study my bachelor’s degree. It’s completely messed up, but I think that’s how we are as human beings. While completely disordered, all the elements still exist. No one taught me shit though with my first ever output, so it was very much a case of this is what I like, and this is what I’ll do. The one thing I do regret at the age of 16 however, is not understanding the importance of what was happening. When you’re 16, your priorities aren’t the best. I was serious in my ambition and creativity, but I don’t think I knew myself as well as I do now. That’s why I chose to stop the whole brand. I decided to give myself six years of study, and then assess where I’m at. In doing so, it allowed me to free myself from the responsibilities I had to deal with as a teenager. I put everything on hiatus, so I could come back to a serious life at a later date. This is where I’m at.

What are you doing now then? 

I have been putting my portfolio together for potential jobs which fit my skill sets, and dealing a lot with various press. I’m also working out how to continue my practice and support myself, because I’m financially independent. The mission would be to find some form of investment. I want to work smaller, making one off custom made couture pieces. I know I need money to continue, so In the meantime I plan on working freelance. Everything goes back into the brand; I live for it. 

What’s happening with your graduate collection? 

I’m finishing off a few more looks from my graduate collection because I only showcased four looks, I wanted to do more. I’m aiming to produce roughly five more looks for the collection, with one already completed. I’ve focused on making something much more wearable with these newer pieces. The reality of what you do as a designer is to make clothing that has a purpose. Without purpose, it’s just a sculpture. I can’t sell myself as that if I want to blend art and commerce. Real people, who are going to go to actual events, would have to have balls of steel to actually wear the more extravagant pieces. I need to find a way to commercialise couture essentially. That would be the aim.

It’s quite impressive that you’ve managed to create such a finessed output from your bedroom. How did you find producing such a refined aesthetic, given the domestic environment?

I think there’s a great irony in making such a refined garment on a domestic machine. It’s the opposite of opulence. Couture just shouldn’t come from a five-year-old domestic machine. At the end of the day, it comes down to the basics of branding. If you’re good at branding, you can present your idea of the world from whatever given environment. Natalie Massenet, for example, explained in an interview in the early 2000s, how it was integral that anything communicated from Net-a-Porter, was done so using ‘we’ and ‘us’ terms. It was the illusion of a larger corporation, despite being run by a couple of broke individuals, working from a small room. I find it interesting because they gave the impression they were refined and global. You can really control how you’re perceived.  

There is a vast personalisation now in how brands communicate. The audience seems more engaged with a depiction of reality, constructed or not. So do you think it’s still important to uphold a corporate level of PR? 

I think the domestic way in which people are working now is a trend. The world thrives off different levels of identification and placing people. I don’t agree with it at all, but we live in a world that is hierarchical. Society works as a social ladder which goes against integration. I also don’t think genuineness has increased as a result of the pandemic. I think people are more accepting of the circumstance, which gives the illusion of personability. Now I can only speak for myself, but before the pandemic, I would share my own technical evolutions clear and concise, with no mess whatsoever. Post pandemic, however, you’ll notice my output is not as clean cut. So it is circumstantial for me. Normally I would have polished everything up. If you want to contextualise it into the wider world, I think graduates are more united and have more empathy towards their peers at this moment in time. 

So what you’re suggesting is, despite working as a more empathetic and more united industry, elitism still thrives? 

Yes, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, anyone can sit on my table. I don’t necessarily want to be couture, but I work in this inaccessible sector because I only design in a very technical way. I do what comes naturally to me, and that means working with precision. You can’t create high end ready-to-wear with the techniques I’m trying to incorporate. I don’t do it because of its prestige. I grew up around an incredibly glamorous mother, and I think that’s informed my character. My obsessions and influences have formed a personality which is akin to that of the work of a couturier. I’m not necessarily looking for a certain form of exclusivity. That’s a natural by-product because you can’t fit in the number of hours a piece takes, at an inexpensive cost of manufacture. This is why I’m so interested in the idea of demi-couture. Fast fashion models have filtered up to the larger labels and you can see the expansion of ranges and capsules. Look at recent releases by Louis Vuitton or Gucci for example. As an observer to this shift, you understand how larger labels are more focused on selling the idea of luxury, as opposed to actual luxury goods. The identity of luxury itself has died. I do think that there will be a reactionary response and a natural rise in interest of haute couture as a result though. Time shows back-to-back trends as a result of the previous. In the future, the allure of hand-made, high-quality garments will return. As this shift to a fast fashion model was created in the last thirty years, it’s worth considering how we can de-progress at the same rate. And I think It will be in this reverse shift that demi-couture will rise, meeting a compromise between high-end RTW and couture. 

You mentioned upcycling for your recent collection, and I wondered whether that was circumstantial because Of COVID-19 limitations, or if you had a prior interest in this way of working? 

Any mode of working now should consider sustainability. It is important to consider where you source your fabric from, and what fabrics you should use. I myself am not an eco-warrior admittedly, but I identified an aversion to fast fashion early on. To use a metaphor, it’s similar to an artist. If you are a commissioned artist, you buy the supplies for what you are asked to make. If you are a commercial artist, you produce on mass, with the risk of excess waste and profits loss. It makes more sense to work on commissions. I like to create beautiful garments though and that’s where my passion lies. I don’t think my pieces could be mass-produced, because that would be hell on earth for me and the people I work with. I’ve always been interested in ethical ways of design. Many years ago, I was introduced to the work of Madame Grès. I was fascinated by the single pattern design and ever since I’ve been trying to develop single pattern garments. I would research curved pleats and the Fibonacci sequence, integrating complex mathematics into my pattern cutting. What you find with this way of designing is it significantly reduces the amount of waste. This was more so a fascination with pattern cutting as opposed to being consciously sustainable. I am very particular with fabrics, and when I’m back in Italy, I tend to buy up a lot of the deadstock fabric from factories. I find something that’s made in small quantities to be precious. As far as sustainable practice goes, If I’m able to reuse garments and fabric, then I think I’ve done as best as I can at the moment. 

For more information regarding Andrea Brocca’s work, follow @andreabrocca

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