Joana Duarte is a young Portuguese fashion designer whose brand BÉHEN recently presented the Resort 2022 collection named Love Begets Love during the London Fashion Week.
In this conversation with her, we talked about this collection and what BÉHEN represents. Gladly, we found out that this brand is more than fashion; it is a lifestyle, a sense of tradition, and an approach to the future through inclusion, family values, love, and the celebration of femininity.
Keep reading to join this new fashion movement.
Joana Duarte – BÉHEN | Exclusive Interview
VT: For those who might not know it, could you please explain the name of your brand?
JD: The name BÉHEN is inspired by the Hindi term for sister: bahin. Representing a story about love, and the many women, from all over the world, who with a sparkle in their eyes believed in this project.
BÉHEN is a feeling of home, of my sisters, family, neighbors, friends, and even strangers who, in a way or another, are connected to this international sisterhood.
VT: Now that we know a little more about BÉHEN, let us talk about your participation in the latest London Fashion Week. What can you tell us about that experience?
JD: I actually studied in London for my master’s degree at Kingston University before going to India to research ethical production, so it’s exciting to be included in the official calendar next to names who shaped my creative process during my studies.
London, for me, is a very special place because BÉHEN actually started on my bedroom floor while I was trying to understand what my purpose was as a fashion designer.
This took me a few years, but the main concept behind the brand started in London, where I actually made my first bedcover coat for a master’s project. But it was back in Portugal where I started to establish more structure and to dive into my grandmother’s archive.
Although it took me a few years of research, the project itself is very recent, and being part of London Fashion Week so soon is also some sort of recognition.
VT: What is the concept of LOVE BEGETS LOVE?
JD: This collection it’s the final chapter of three collections that explored the concept of love, marriage, and what it means to be a woman throughout history. AMOR COM AMOR SE PAGA, the Portuguese original title, begins with the tragic love story of Rodrigo and Leonor, who go against their parents’ strife only to meet the end of their lives, but not meet the end of their love.
It’s a traditional tale that still lingers in the waves of Peniche, a Portuguese fishermen’s town. Full of sacred symbols and symbology, BÉHEN’s Resort collection intertwines history within Portuguese ancient crafts, such as crochet, Madeira and Viana do Castelo typical embroidery, and upcycled antique textiles like curtains, bedcovers, and linen from the designer’s grandmother archive and collected during this past year from all over Portugal.
The result of this almost obsessive search is a love letter to all the women who shared their wedding trousseau with the brand so that this collection could be a reality.
Promoting craftsmanship while supporting women
VT: Your crochet pieces are amazing. How did you come up with the idea of including this technique in the collection?
JD: I always try to explore crafts that are closer to the Portuguese universe. The goal will always be to represent these ancient crafts as a call to action to younger generations to preserve them.
Crochet is also part of my family traditions, as both my grandmothers are skilled crochet masters. All of the crochet drawings used in the collection were selected from hundreds of antique magazines that my neighbors shared with me, and the prints were made from parts of crochet samples sewn by women who trust me with their precious archives.
The threads were a gift from one of the best Portuguese manufacturers of 100% cotton crochet threads, Limol, and it was Dona Rosa, an icon of the Lisbon-based project A Avó Veio Trabalhar (Grandma Came to Work), who made some of the pieces come to life. After all of this, Swarovski crystals were added to the pieces.
VT: As far as I know, for this collection, BÉHEN included the participation of Portuguese women artisans and embroiderers. Could you tell us more about this initiative?
JD: We have been working with women artisans and embroiders since our very first collection. When BÉHEN first started, we partnered with the Aga Khan Foundation, where I met many women from all over the world who were involved in the production of our pieces.
Today, we work with women-led ateliers nearby Lisbon and with local embroiderers in Madeira island, where we make our Madeira embroidery pieces. Hand-embroidery is a huge part of the Portuguese culture, so it’s important for us to promote and preserve our craftsmanship while supporting other women.
Last year, we also collaborated with Fundação Príncipe in Príncipe island where the local women artisans transform glass from the shores into beautiful beads that we used in some of our pieces.
Even in our Levi’s project, we invited FRESS, Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo, who connected us with master Teresa to teach us how to make an ancient Portuguese marble technique used in books. More recently, the crochet made by D.Rose with ‘Grandma came to work’ but also, we work with many other women who are, in one way or another, involved in the production of our pieces.
We don’t throw anything away
VT: I must ask you this question for the world to know about it; what do you do with leftover fabric?
JD: Due to we work with antique materials, we are actually challenged to find creative ways to make the best of the fabric that we have.
For example, bed covers and tablecloths have specific measures, and they are not the same, which is a challenge for pattern placement and cutting because there are times in which you just have those 2 meters, no more, and you have to transform them into a garment.
Usually, we don’t have much leftover fabric from our production exactly because the materials we use don’t allow us to have that type of waste, but we don’t throw anything away; we try to use it in other things such as shoes, accessories, small bags, or even for our shows invitations.
VT: You have also presented I WANT YOU SO BAD FW21/22. Would you like to share with us more about it?
JD: It was our second show ever at Lisbon Fashion Week, as well as our first digital fashion show, and a totally different experience.
Digital shows can be great in many aspects, especially when trying to reach an international audience. But I have to admit missing the rush of our first show with people actually watching and sharing about it on social media.
Also, our pieces are extremely detailed, and it’s always a different experience when you can watch everything right in front of you and not through a screen.
Nevertheless, I do think it’s crucial for creatives to experiment with other formats rather than the fashion show, but I also understand the magic behind them.
Regarding I WANT YOU SO BAD, the collection was entirely made with antique materials, and we managed to involve as many collaborations and other Portuguese creatives. This collection is a continuation of our first season but now focused on the concept of honeymoon, including bed covers brought by many women from all over the world as marriage gifts.
BÉHEN is a feeling of home
VT: How does BÉHEN embrace diversity through fashion?
JD: For us, diversity it’s not just about the models who wear our clothes. It’s actually about being able to reach other communities and make everyone feel welcome and safe. That’s exactly why our name is BÉHEN; it means sister because we wanted to create that international group of people, like sisters, that share the same values and love for textiles with stories and about women who can change the world.
VT: Which advice would you give to any young person who would like to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
JD: Find your purpose! What makes you different from other creatives. And do it while contributing positively to others. I think it’s mandatory for today’s fashion to actually contribute and to help build a better society. Otherwise, there’s no point.
VT: Anything else you would like to share with Vanity Teen?
JD: Keep supporting emerging designers and believe in the power of fashion!
Before we go
With Joana Duarte and BÉHEN, we have been learning that the power of fashion is far beyond the garments and can be used to embrace equity and release our potentials.
Let us remember this message and do our best to support and promote our local artisans, improve our societies, and spread love wearing clothes that make you feel at home.