In My Room with Alba
Meet Alba, a fashion designer, DJ and lover of all things creative. Originally from Barcelona, she followed her passion for fashion to Berlin where she studied at the University of the Arts. Her talent and hard work paid off when she won the People’s Prize of the H&M Design Award with her final collection and went on to work with industry giants like Victoria Beckham, Christopher Kane and Celine. But Alba's interests go beyond the world of fashion. She finds inspiration in nature, experimental music, and movies, and has a deep appreciation for industrial design and architecture. Her home reflects her unique tastes, with carefully selected pieces that remind her of the cities she's lived in and the people she's met along the way. Now based in Copenhagen, Alba has embraced the city's high sustainability standards and works to incorporate responsible practices into her work in the fashion industry. When she's not designing or working on her turntables, you can find her exploring her favourite neighbourhood of Nørrebro, where she feels at home among the diverse cultures and people from all over the world. Join us as we dive into the world of Alba, a creative force with a passion for fashion, music, and design.
RF: Thank you for your time today. I would love to know a little bit about how you got to where you are today, which is sitting in your apartment in Copenhagen.
A: Sure. Well, first of all, I studied Environmental Science in Barcelona. And back in the day, in my surroundings, studying design was not such a common thing. But I've always really liked fashion so I was taking courses on pattern cutting and fashion drawing at a fashion school in Barcelona parallely to my work . It was more like a hobby in the beginning. Even though I grew up with a grandma sewing her own dresses at home, I never showed any interest somehow and kept playing with my Playmobil sets. But then naturally, I made a lot of friends who were in the creative industry and during Easter 2004 I went to Berlin on holiday and that completely changed the course of my life. I've always been very attracted to that city. I literally fell in love. I could feel the history of the country walking the streets. Also, I love electronic music so I went to Berghain, and that was the year they actually opened, and I was like, ‘what is this place?!’. I also love architecture, especially Soviet buildings and industrial spaces. Berghain had it all. The city really offered everything to me, so I decided to move there. After submitting an assignment and two intense days of admission exams, I was accepted at the University of the Arts to study Fashion Design. It was a super nice experience where, I made a lot of friends for life. But I always had in the back of my mind, like an instinct, that I wanted to move to London.
RF: London always feels like the hub to if it's not Milan or Paris to find a career in fashion…
A: Exactly. So after graduating, I applied for several competitions and I won the People’s Prize of the H&M Design Award with my final collection.
RF: Wow that's amazing!
A: Jonathan Saunders was on the jury and the prize was to work with him. So that was how I moved to London. I then started building my career working with other young designers at the time like Christopher Kane and Simone Rocha.
RF: Not bad at all!!
A: Yeah, it wasn’t but it was so tough in the beginning! but in each company I was learning something new. At Jonathan I became an expert at Illustrator, because at university they didn't really teach us how to use Adobe. It was always learning by doing. At Christopher Kane, back in the day, didn't have a design team, it was just him and his sister designing. So I worked with the pattern cutter team and I became better at cutting fabrics and sewing garments because my job was to copy paper patterns into fabrics and then sew the prototypes. It was a different experience in each company. Afterwards I moved to bigger and more corporate companies like Victoria Beckham and Celine in a product developer role. Honestly, at that point, I wasn’t sure what that role consisted of. But they took me in, and I was like, ‘I'll take anything if it's with Phoebe Philo!’.
RF: So how did you end up in Copenhagen after such a glamorous time in luxury fashion?
A: I was working at Mulberry at the time and a recruiter reached out to me about a position at By Malene Birger. I knew the company because an ex colleague from Mulberry became the creative director there. So I kind of thought, like, Okay, if she took this step, maybe I can do it too. I remember I went to Copenhagen, and I was like, Okay, this city reminds me a lot of Berlin, and I felt a feeling of home. So I followed my instinct and I came here.
RF: Earlier, you mentioned your beginning in environmental science so I'm curious how you balance knowing all these things around climate and sustainability with a career in an industry that harms the environment. I like to say we are all walking contradictions so no judgement.
A: When I was working in luxury, sustainability was not in everyone’s agenda like it might be today. But after moving to Copenhagen, I realised there are very high standards, especially after COVID. This has been a big turning point. For example, in fashion it is very common to overproduce. Sometimes when we design, we might use a fabric we're not sure how it is going to look like in a specific shape. So we create more designs, just to cover our backs. After COVID, we became more aware of this, so if there is leftover fabric we carry it over into another collection. Also, In order to show in Copenhagen Fashion Week, we need to prove a very specific sustainability standard in the collection. This has pushed companies to use more responsible fabrics: organic, recycled, upcycled and be more conscious about the footprint regarding the transport of the garments from the factories. A greater awareness that is very much needed in fashion.
RF: I want to dig into your creative expression outside of design. I can see you have two turntables behind you. Why don’t we start there?
A: Si, I find a lot of inspiration in electronic music. I grew up surrounded by machine sounds back at home. My dad has a company that cleans cereal for farmers in the region so I'm very used to the stainless steel machinery aesthetic and the industrial sound of robots and metal. I also grew up listening to 'Makina' music, it was my favourite style next to the 80s hits radio. It was a big thing in Spain! There was even 'La ruta del bakalao' which was a weekend of non stop clubbing dancing to Makina on the outskirts of Valencia.
RF: What role does music play in your life?
A: It has always been very important for me. I’ve met my best friends through music! In a club, festival, gig or even back in the day in Soulseek, a program to download music. There is always music when I’m home. It changes with my mood. Lately I’m relistening the Rare Frequency podcasts, experimental music mixes from the 00s where I feel I expand my music knowledge with every song Susan, the founder, plays. When I'm stressed or need to disconnect, I love to mix vinyls in the turntables. The challenge to synchronise the rhythm of the two songs somehow relaxes me. It’s very mathematical, and I love that it’s so precise. It’s my escape and something very different from my everyday fashion routine.
RF: Where else do you find inspiration?
A: I always get a lot of inspiration from nature. Sometimes living in the city I miss the connection with nature. Especially during COVID, I used to have this routine to go out to Amager Fælled, which is a beautiful area in the South of Copenhagen that has birch tree forests with hidden man made water canals. I find this landscape very Scandinavian and spiritual. It also reminds me of being in the 'Zone' from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a movie that has a special place in my heart. Watching it feels like reading poetry. I love everything about it: the contemplative mood, the minimal nature sounds, the calmness, the visual poetry. Movies are one of the things that inspire me the most.
RF: I'm curious. As someone who has moved as many times as you in your professional career, where is home for you? What is your relationship to it?
A: This is a very tricky question! I guess home is Copenhagen. I feel very connected to Berlin maybe because it’s where my life changed from scientist to designer. It shaped me a lot. Home for me is about being surrounded by things I love. I put extensive research behind every product I buy and each one has a connection to the different cities I’ve lived in.The black hole holographic poster in my bedroom is from Transmediale 2012, a Berlin art festival. Also, home to me is music and I love to enjoy it with good sound. To me, sound is everything, that's why I asked for recommendations from all my music producer and deejay friends before buying my speakers. This is the extensive research I was talking about in this case. There’s something so beautiful about a good sound like when you're in the middle of a dance floor. It's perfect.
RF: I love the time and effort you put into making your home. Do you have any kinds of rituals or routines that are sacred to you in your home, or your bedroom?
A: On the weekends I really love to stay longer in bed and read my Soviet architecture and industrial design books. This is how I find potential new holiday destinations in East Europe and learn about the concepts created by other creatives when designing. I always find it very inspiring to understand their thinking process. I love to do this in the morning whenever there’s direct sun in my bedroom! It's a very rewarding feeling, some ‘me’ time.
RF: Talk to me about some of your favourite things in your house.
A: I'm really attached to my industrial lamps, especially to the nuclear weapon looking one, as my friend very precisely described it. I bought it in my favourite furniture store in Berlin. Then there’s the bed, can we talk about the bed?! I don't think we talked enough about it! . Because, you know, I literally fell in love back in summer with the aluminium frame. I was like, I need this bed in my life! I've never seen anything like this. Also, I love cars, especially sports racing cars like Lamborghini and Audi. So when I saw the bed with its clean industrial lines, it felt like having my own silver car and now the bedroom makes total sense. So yeah, for me, it's very special. And also, I have a mini lamborghini prototype made of crystal. My friend from uni told me where to find this rarity. Wow. This is also something very special for me.
RF: And finally, tell me about the neighbourhood you live in.
A: So right now I live in Norrebro and this is my absolute favourite neighbourhood in Copenhagen. I remember I visited the city on a cold December weekend back in 2018 to see how I liked it before moving in and I was like, I want to live in Norrebro no matter what. I like to live in a place that has different cultures and people from all over the world. It reminds me of growing up in Barcelona and Kreuzberg, the Turkish neighbourhood in Berlin. In Norrebro I have this ‘home feeling’, it's a warm feeling. I love to go to the bazaar for food shopping and hang out in my local bodegas which I find more raw and authentic than the classic natural wine bars around the city. They remind me of London pubs and I love it.