Dissect The Universe – Conversation Nº 02.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I studied remotely, at an American school while I was also pursuing a degree program in harp — I studied harp for 16 years. However, I later decided to study fashion and launched a brand called “HERIDA DE GATO,” which I ran for ten years until I decided to close it during the pandemic. I realised that fashion wasn’t truly my calling, and since yoga had been a part of my life for years, I decided to pursue that path.

I’ve been connected to art from a young age, thanks to my mother (María is the daughter of the Spanish artist Ouka Leele), her friends, and my grandparents, who also had a great appreciation for art. It’s something I’ve always internalised, and as I’ve grown, I’ve come to value it even more. Now, I’m very grateful for the education my mother has given me. For me, art is a daily necessity.

What are your professional plans?

Currently, we are establishing the Ouka Leele Foundation, and the team consists of Maria Redondo, Anne Banaan, Maria Ballesteros who is in Barcelona, and me. The primary goal of the foundation is to preserve artistic heritage, but we don’t want it to be something static. We would like to create connections with other foundations, support young artists, and ensure that the legacy she left behind is reflected in something fresh.

I had been thinking about creating a foundation in memory of my mother for a while, and one day, while organising things, I found some statutes she had left behind. I took it as a sign, and I suppose my role will be president or something similar [laughs] because, in foundations, titles need to be assigned. Still, the entire team will be involved in decision-making, and we are very excited. 

You’ve grown up surrounded by works of art, traveling, meeting people, and you’re also a highly sensitive person. Is there someone who has surprised you?

I’ve grown up meeting a lot of people and visiting places because of my mother’s work. Two people who have surprised me the most are Yoko Ono, whom I met at the age of 12 at the Biennal de Valencia. I remember she was wearing badges she had made against war, and as a little fan of the Beatles, it thrilled me. Another person who has surprised me is Miquel Barceló, whom I already knew. I recently spent some time with him in his studio in Mallorca, and being with him makes you rethink many things in life. Now, I just want to go pick almonds, do ceramics, and spend the whole day at the beach [laughs].

Where do you think this industry is heading? Do you have any opinions on this and digitalisation?

I think the more conservative side is a bit frightened by everything happening with artificial intelligence; authorship is being reduced to nothing. On the other hand, I find it amusing to see the democratisation of being a creator, where everyone can have access to it simply by using parameters on a machine. So, on one hand, I’m worried that the human element might be lost, of course, but on the other hand, I’m curious to see a change in, for example, ten years.

What does beauty mean to you? Do art and beauty go hand in hand? Do you believe that with beauty around us, we are happier?

If we’re talking about art or contemporary art, I have no idea. But for me, beauty and art or artistic expressions go hand in hand. I can be moved by seeing a building without even knowing who it belongs to. I can also see a film as something beautiful; these are things that nourish you. I believe it’s essential to grow surrounded by beautiful things. I see that a lot in Italy; my partner is Italian, and I told him once that it’s hard to get angry there. If you go out on the street, everything is beautiful, so beauty in our environment is crucial.

What motivates you to keep growing, and what makes you feel good both professionally and personally?   

It’s true that my way of projecting professionally has changed a bit. When I worked in fashion, I had goals like selling in a certain store or wanting someone to wear the clothes I made. Now, working with someone else’s material, I want to take care of that work that is already done, but I don’t have the bond and expectations I’ve had other times. 

Es verdad que me ha cambiado un poco la forma de proyectar a nivel profesional, cuando trabajaba en moda tenía metas como vender en “x” tienda o quiero que alguien se ponga la ropa que he hecho, ahora al estar trabajando con material de otra persona es como que quiero cuidar ese trabajo ya hecho pero no tengo el vínculo y las expectativas que he tenido otras veces.  

What is your day-to-day like now?

I usually wake up around 8 or 8:30am, spend some time at home, have a coffee, check Instagram — like we all do. I go to yoga at 10am, and from there, I go to the studio, mainly for meetings. When I have a specific project with someone, or a trip, things change, but at the core, that’s my routine when I’m in Madrid. I try not to finish work too late, to be more relaxed and dedicate the rest of the day to myself.

What would your ideal lifestyle be?

I’ve fantasized many times about living in Ibiza because I like it a lot. However, I think I would get a bit bored there all year round. So, I like being based in Madrid because it has good connections, and you can travel anywhere. But my ideal lifestyle would be not feeling limited by schedules, having a job that allows me to travel, manage my time, and going to Bali for a month each year to do nothing.

A memory worth remembering

A memory that I will always cherish is a trip my mother and I took to Paris because Miquel Barceló, whom I was talking about earlier, was going to paint her portrait. At that time, my mother decided she didn’t want to travel by plane, so we took a sleeper train, and the experience was so much fun. Later, we visited galleries, walked around the city, but I want to say that when you lose someone close, any moment you’ve spent that reminds you of them is precious.

If Maria Rosenfeldt were a recipe, what would it be?

If I were a recipe, it would be something with lots of cilantro, endives, and spice. I think that if I were a dish, it could be an endive salad with olive oil and grilled chicken with lemon, ginger, lots of cilantro, cayenne, and asparagus. 

Published December 26, 2023

Dissect The Universe is a nonchalant public space to share daily life. 


Dissect The Universe – Conversation Nº 01.

Can you give us a brief overview of your journey?

I had always wanted to have a brand, not for the business side, but to express myself. It seemed impossible to me because I kept hearing the advice to “study something with a future.” In fact, I had a technical high school education, thinking I could do something creative like architecture. But then I realized it wasn’t the right path, so I decided to go for fashion because I loved it.

It’s true that fashion has always been a passion of mine, and I had an immense desire to express myself. But fully dedicating myself to it seemed challenging due to the number of people who were and still are trying to make progress with their own projects. Regarding my education, I attended IED Madrid (European Institute of Design) and Central Saint Martins in London, where I completed a master’s program in menswear tailoring. From there, I began to launch collections and realised that they were successful, and we could become something interesting within the global industry, even though we were still a small project.

I made the first collection on my own with the help of some seamstresses from my living room with a rented sewing machine and it was the final project of my master’s degree. From the third collection onwards, we started to build space and create a team until now, we are nine people.

Team rest and dining room

It’s known that this industry is often associated with aesthetics and superficiality, but considering your background, how important is ethics in your work?

Honestly, it’s one of the core principles and values that I hold dear. I understand that the fashion industry can be challenging for everyone, with long working hours and a lot of pressure but considering the personal significance of this project that bears my name, I know it’s important for the team to maintain a sense of tranquility. I try, in my own way, to convey this and to work in a way that allows us to have fun while ensuring that the work gets done.

When it comes to production, we do it in Spain in small local workshops and are directly in contact with our producers. In fact, we are currently working on a project that aims to showcase what is behind our brand. Each garment has a name and there are people involved in the process.

What’s your day-to-day like?

I’d love to tell you about a wonderful day (laughs), but look, I usually wake up at around 7am, and one of two things can happen. There are days when I wake up at the same time as my girlfriend, and we have breakfast together. Or if she’s already gone, I wake up, and check my phone and emails while having a cup of coffee. Then I head to the studio, and I have about an hour before the rest of the team arrives, so I use that time to go over pending tasks.

I usually finish work at around seven, and depending on the day, I either attend an event if there’s one, or I head home to spend time with my partner, or go to the cinema, which inspires me a lot. This way, I also have some time for myself at the end of the day.

In reference to the previous question, this is a topic that is often not discussed and is unfamiliar to those not in the fashion world. But how long are your workdays typically? What gives you the energy to maintain as balanced a lifestyle as possible? Do you feel that the pressure of working in a creative field is cultural or intrinsic to the individual?

Over time, I try to create my own space, and as we grow, I have to adapt to it. It used to be much easier before, but as I continue to grow and have more people under my supervision, I can’t have the freelance lifestyle I had before. Right now, I’m in a phase where I’m back in Spain after many years in London. I’m reconnecting more with my family, friends, and the way of life here. So, I find my energy in my personal moments and free time. In fact, it’s important to me that both my team and I have our personal lives to shape a new fashion industry. Especially in the ’80s and ’90s, I think there was toxicity in this industry that we’re moving away from. For example, with the team, I try not to discuss work on WhatsApp; we use the Slack platform for communication. It may seem very corporate, but I think it’s important to differentiate work from personal life.

How do you maintain a balance between fashion as a means of expression/vocation and the business side?

In my case, I’m learning this day by day because it can be challenging at times. Many designers enter this world driven by passion and as a means of expression, to create something beautiful. However, the reality is that we have to consider a business plan, accounting, and many other aspects that are as important as the creative part. In our case, we try to experiment in a way that takes into account our production margins, sales, and collection after collection, we are establishing our own language.

Carlota at the stockroom working on their last collection

One of your claims is “celebrating evolving identities.” What do you believe is currently the focus in fashion?

As I grew, I realized how fashion was designed for women and men. It’s true that it’s broad, but it tends to be technically uncomfortable. I felt that designing for women was a way to beautify that doll-like figure, while for men, it was more functional and comfortable. That’s why I found it interesting to take the base patterns established in men’s fashion and bring a feminine vision and sensitivity that I’ve had since childhood. Being a queer woman, I don’t see men as sexual objects, so I thought it was interesting to work on that subtlety and sensitivity with a language that already exists but from a different perspective, because for me, the more perspectives there are, the better.

In conclusion, the brand started as men’s fashion due to my obsession with tailoring but has evolved into an exploration of gender identities because, in the end, we all dress as we like, and nothing should have a defined gender, especially the clothes, which are a choice we make every day when dressing and can allow us to express who we are. So, why not support that choice and help people become the best version of themselves?

 What would be the ideal future for this project?

I always try to think step by step to avoid frustration. I would like the brand to generate enough profit for us to be more at ease and grow gradually.

Do you have any team rituals?

One of the reasons we moved to this studio is to have a multidisciplinary table and space where we can all be together. Everyone is working on their own tasks, so it’s challenging to have a specific ritual, but I try to ensure good communication among all of us.

 Finally, if Carlota Barrera were a recipe, what would it be?

 I love eating and cooking. It’s hard to say. I can’t think of anything specific, but it would certainly be something homemade and cooked among friends. Something made with love and a lot of fun by several people.

Published November 6, 2023

Dissect The Universe is a nonchalant public space to share daily life.