A profile on emerging designer Brian De Carvalho and his experience navigating a brand after lockdown, stylists, studio spaces and dressing stars like Sam Smith
“I fucked up with that one” the 27 year old Brian De Carvalho admits behind the scenes of our photoshoot. He’s speaking candidly about his latest release “The Morticia,” a dress he posted on instagram yesterday and immediately received twelve requests for it, from stylists and buyers alike followed by a later four the following day. The issue with all the interest? The dress isn’t even in the country, or for that matter Europe. Instead the only version is in New York; from there it will go to L.A and then onto New Jersey. The demand for Brian’s work is multi-national and growing, so much so that he’s had to hire an additional intern on top of the two he had previously when I interviewed him a mere week ago.
It leaves me wondering how four people can work comfortably in a cosy space affectionally nicknamed “the dungeon” that blasts Beyonce 24/7, underscoring the intern’s work and our interview. Sat on a container of fabric De Carvalho reveals that his first studio was somewhat of a rushed decision “I got this order through and they were like, you need to make six dresses. It’s for a television show….literally from one day to the next, it was like I got a studio, we started painting the walls and then I had interns.” NDA’s signed and lips sealed, the elusive facts of the order are known only to Brian, his interns and his client. It turns out to be one of the many conditions the Brian De Carvalho brand imposes on stylists desperate to pull from them – in his reasoning they can’t make a dress, corset or custom outfit for any client without knowing it’s use first.
A studio for any brand is a big step, and one that De Carvalho remains continuously aware of having originated the brand on his mum’s living room floor, cutting up curtains and old bedsheets as he taught himself to sew an authentic 18th century Corset in lockdown acknowledging “I always had that interest but never had the opportunity” until Covid-19 enforced a global shutdown. Yet Brian didn’t use the time to relax “I woke up at 8:00 AM every day for two weeks.” And when he posted it, proud of his handwork and dedication to what started as a way to expand his own wardrobe he was signed to a showroom which caused his brand to spiral into unexpected popularity.
“It was just a bit wild because they were like, ‘we love this, can you make one in black?’ ‘Can you make a cropped one?’ ‘We now want it in a dress.’ ‘Can you make it for this magazine?’ ‘This celebrity wants to wear it Friday night for this event.’ And I’m like, I’m still learning how to thread my machine guys.”
In many ways De Carvalho’s experience teaching himself helped his brand become distinctive for a recognisable raw edge, or distressed element to his corsets “at first it was more the fact that I just didn’t have the skills. Again, I’m not a seamstress, I don’t have that kind of background or training.” Studying Fine Art at the University of Westminster, sewing for De Carvalho was a way to guarantee exclusivity in his outfits: up-cycling car seat belts and B+Q chains wrapped around his legs on a night out.
In terms of what he creates it comes to “as dramatic of a silhouette as you can get.” Something he emulated in his unofficial uniform of corsets and harnesses when working as an intern for Vivienne Westwood “I loved it.. I did the absolute most..I was just getting coffee and running errands in my corset..” Working for one of his ‘big three’ design inspirations, Westwood’s influences are clear alongside John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. In fact it’s the embodiment of McQueen’s spirit clear in the designer imbuing his practice with a fierce approach but gentle nature. Brian’s lived experience dictates how he treats his interns now and how he personally ‘won’t set a price, I’ll ask the girls what their time is worth’ embracing his new role as a boss, conscious of his team’s labour.
Back in the beginning of the brand the surge in demand caused De Carvalho to be backed up for 6 months on orders. A testament to his brand’s following, De Carvalho acknowledges he was “fortunate enough that I found people who love the brand, that don’t mind I’m a hot mess and really believe in it.” A following protective enough over his work to call out his multiple copy cats. The only issue? De Carvalho’s evasive identity to his instagram’s 5,535 followers. He recalls working on a photoshoot in which a case of mistaken identity led him to evaluate the visibility of himself behind the business.
“Because [the photographer] thought I copied me he sidled up to me and said ‘this is very reminiscent of another designer. This is very signature for their house.’ … apparently I was just ripping myself off.”
That and an interaction at The Gay Times awards which lead his dress to be recognised as a Brian De Cavalho before he was is testament to his distinctive brand identity that arose naturally through his construction and adoption of punk inspiration “I didn’t see the joy in making something like beautifully perfect be finished. I was more about like it was the character and like the energy of the clothes versus how beautifully well finished they were.”
Despite De Carvalho’s many successes, dressing Anne Marie for Spotify and Sam Smith’s dancers in his latest music video for “Unholy” his rise has been littered with its own trials, mostly at the hands of stylists and long-running industry structure, “ironically I had a stylist who pulled from me quite often and she never knew that I was a fine arts student. She was under the impression I was a Central St Martin’s graduate from fashion…. I guess either they can’t sew or I’m just as good as them”
From having an entire collection lost by a stylist to the harsh reality of being ‘1 in 20 designers and 5 of maybe 50 garments’ De Carvalho is all too aware of the hierarchies in the fashion industry sharing that ‘it’s very rare to find a stylist that respects the designer’ and even harder to find that wider respect as a young brand starting out. The answer for Brian? Relying on queer nightlife and the gay clubbing scene alongside the oldest creative tool; word of mouth. Distributing some of the first corsets and dresses to drag queens he knew personally, the demand from their demographic for his dramatic, theatrical work led him to now “avoid them like the plague” in favour of his paying clients.
The rise of Brian De Cavalho ultimately is due to the man himself, a candid creative and a shining example of where capturing the minds of figures within the industry can take you. Something Brian hopes will continue long into the future “I want my pieces to take up as much space as possible. Like physically, emotionally, spiritually… these pieces aren’t what you wear to shy away.”
If its designer is any indicator, the brand of Brian De Carvalho will not stay a hidden gem for long. The brand is overflowing with the key aspects that take fashion brands years (and millions of pounds) to hone. Brimming with strong concepts and the construction to back it up, DeCarvalho’s customer base is ready and waiting for more, making his rise all the more satisfying to see.