Designer and modern aristocrat shares her journey so far
Spain’s most daring designer has plenty to celebrate. In 2010, the 30th anniversary of her first fashion show, she created her own Foundation. In 2012 she commemorated 20 years’ collaboration with El Corte Inglés. And in 2013 she received the Spanish and French “Diálogo” prize. Soledad Bescós meets her at the designer’s Costa de los Pinos home.
Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada y Sentmenat (Madrid, 1960), is Marchioness of Castelldosríus, Baroness of Santa Pau and Grandee (Grande de España). A modern aristocrat who was also behind the proposal presented to the Congress of Deputies which, with the exception of royalty, makes women and men equal in the succession of noble titles.
Daughter and granddaughter of famous architects, she studied at the Barcelona School of Art and Fashion Techniques and, at the tender age of 20, began working as an assistant to dressmaker Pepe Rubio. Only a year after her first fashion show, she opened her own boutique and her career really took off. Her work is ground-breaking and she loves ‘happy clothes’. Her aim is to provoke “Joy, positivity, happiness and a feeling of comfort”.
She remembers her childhood as being great fun. “My mother’s family was like something out of a story book, and I was hugely influenced by the fact that my father was a great modern art collector”. One of their neighbours was Antonio Garrigues, (politician and respected lawyer), and Agatha grew up amongst intellectuals. The whirlwind of cultural stimuli during the ‘70s prompted her to consider becoming a painter. She started reading for a degree in Architecture but her creativity inevitably led her to fashion as a way to channel her inspiration: herself, nature and modern art. The designer has never been interested in fashion trends: “Designers are starting to use colour, so in the end the latest fashions have adapted themselves to me.”
A founding member of the “Movida Madrileña”, she had her first fashion show at ‘Local’ a known ‘Madrilenian Scene’ hotspot. She was the first Spanish designer to create a global brand concept, which she began licensing in 1991, and currently works with over 50 licensees. She has expanded her range of products from women’s clothing to furniture, reinforced doors, motorbike helmets, books, pet accessories, underwear, cosmetics, tableware, handbags, jewellery, wedding dresses, mobile phones, lamps and candles for boats, amongst others, and her items are available in shops in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Milan, New York and Porto, as well as in department stores in over 140 countries. Her main markets are Spain (via El Corte Inglés), Latin America and Italy.
She sums up the secret of her success simply: “Work, work and more work. I love it so it’s no effort. Believing in yourself and in what you are doing is fundamental. My team is the best, they are marvellous. We have an excellent relationship and they know exactly how they need to get things done.” One of her best sellers is a grey plush sweater with a red sequin heart on it from the Winter 2013 women’s collection: “Currently selling like hot cakes in my shops, online shop and in El Corte Inglés!” When asked about the heart which appears on so many of her designs she exclaims: “The heart chose me!”
One of her lifelong dreams came true in 2010, in the form of her own Foundation, which boasts a bank of documents on her career and which will enable her to organise cultural and fundraising events. She loved designing the costumes and set for the theatre production “Sofocos” which has just premiered in Madrid to rave reviews. She has been elected patron of the events organised for International Women’s Day in Venice, which culminated with an exhibition in the Correr Museum presenting a collection of her most emblematic designs. “It is the greatest honour for an artist to be able to exhibit in the city”. She is about to launch a chimney collection and has just renovated several shops. She was very proud to receive the Dialogo prize with Jean Paul Gaultier: “It acknowledges our work in promoting an industry which generates employment and exports.” This summer she will open a retrospective exhibition of children’s fashion at IVAM in Valencia and is also in the process of preparing a beautiful book for the occasion. Not forgetting the fact that she is preparing her new Spring-Summer 2014 collection, which she is “sure will be a hit”.
Agatha admires educated, intelligent, kind, fun and colourful women and would love to dress Anna de lo Ruso, Angela Merkel and Kate Middleton.
She lives with her life partner, the journalist Pedro J. Ramírez, and claims that they handle all the attention from the media “very well”. When asked how they met, she says: “In an airport. He asked me to have dinner with him and I wasn´t sure, but the Diario 16 newspaper published a really bad review of my work, and he was the newspaper director at the time, so I accepted!” They have two children: Tristán Jerónimo and Cósima Oliva, who, with time, have become great admirers of their mother’s extravagant dress sense.
Agatha would spend her childhood summers in Mallorca with her parents – a tradition she has followed with her own children. She loves relaxing at home, reading, playing at Pula Golf in Son Servera, and taking long afternoon walks with her dog – always dressed comfortably in leggings and tops, always ARP designs. On her list of things still to do is learning to cook, and designing wind turbines. Architecture remains one of her great passions, and she is a great admirer of Steve Jobs and of Picasso’s paintings. Her next great challenge, which has, to date, been difficult to achieve is to finally conquer the Asian market with her hearts and colours.