We can all agree 2021 it’s been a difficult year, but in between all chaos, there were creatives that stood up and tried to make a change. We had the opportunity to talk with Juan Carlos Grao (I.G. @juancarlosgrao), a Spanish fashion designer and pattern maker who found the strength to start and release his own made-to-order brand; GRAO.
VT Who is Juan Carlos Grao, and what is behind GRAO?
Juan Carlos is a fashion designer specialised in pattern making. Among others, I have been working at the studios of Loewe, Celine, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry. Now I have my own studio and I teach at different universities.
GRAO advocates for a traditional philosophy versus mass production.Small collections made with meticulous dedication in our studio in Barcelona. Even if it’s a men’s line, the silhouettes are versatile and welcome all publics. We want to portray the lifestyle of those who appreciate fashion as a social and cultural expression, who reflect on consumption and agree that garments should be versatile and durable over time.
VT You worked for big names in the industry before having your own project, are there any differences when working on your own?
There are many differences now that I’m working on my own compared to working for big industry names. I would say the one I feel the most is the infrastructure of the brand, I’m used to work in big teams with very specialised people and almost any economic resources. Now I work in a smaller team, with specialised people but also collaborating with young talents, and that gives me more space to develop the project at its own pace, and under the technical and creative criteria that I gained during my career.
VT Describe the brand in 3 words.
Tradition. Craftsmanship. Modern.
VT We know this isn’t a conventional brand, why did you choose to give birth to GRAO as a made-to-order brand?
I chose to start the brand as made to order because I wanted to step aside of the direction, fashion is moving nowadays. Because of my love for the craftsmanship and tradition I don’t believe in mass production, I want to give all my garments the time they need to develop until they have the perfect fitting, which in the end adds value to the garment turning them into pieces you can wear during many years until they are passed on to the next generation. This also helps us against excessive production and being more conscious with pollution.
VT Your first collection is named “Serie 1; Botanicals” Could you tell us more about it?
This first collection has a lot of my own experience with workwear and tailoring. I am interested in any classic piece that has evolved through time and its not limited. My aim is to take those garments that have always been around like the worker jacket, worker trousers or the shirt and restyle them to make them contemporary. Art and nature are also very influential to me, and that part I wanted to represent through the prints in the collection.
Apart from being made to order, GRAO doesn’t believe in the hectic seasonal schedule of fashion. For that reason, the brand will release themed collections under the name of Series, and a small capsule in between Series.
VT This has been a hard year for everyone, and some of us struggled to focus on anything creative. How did you keep the motivation and inspiration flowing?
This collection and the project itself has been in my head for many years now, my mother and grandmother always worked with mens fashion and tailoring so I always knew I wanted to start my own menswear brand.
During lockdown all my classes and projects paused and I felt the need to stood up and not be passive about what was happening. I’m a very restless man and that situation gave me the push (and time) I needed to start GRAO, even if I didn’t know where I was going in the beginning. Starting the project and giving myself proper rest is what kept me through it.
VT Everyone knows fashion is circular, trends from 20 years ago are making a comeback being the new protagonists. Does that influence your work in any way? What inspires you the most right now?
Oh, totally! Like I said I’m mostly interested in classic garments, so practically I’m always studying and observing trends in order to restyle them.
I’m inspired by life! I have always been super captivated by how society evolves. It fascinates me all the social and gender fight and how people are coming together. Also the evolution of technology and what humans will be able to do in the future thanks to it.
VT In fashion most of the time style is chosen over function, as a designer do you prefer functional or fashionable clothes?
Both. I try to build a bridge in between functional and fashionable, even if sometimes it falls more into one part than the other.
VT You have been working in the fashion industry for many years now, how would you say fashion changed over time?
I think the mass production is probably what bothers me the most. We lost the value garments used to have when they weren’t produced in large amounts. It’s all kind of luxury fast fashion now…
VT What is the best advice for a young designer.
Be true to your instincts, nourish yourself in order to nourish your art, and be aware of the changes in life and specifically in the fashion business.
VT What is the garment that will always make an appearance in your collections?
The worker jacket, always.