La Paz is a clothing company from Porto which we’ve been selling for a while now. Fancy fabrics and subtle details are the name of the game with this stuff… with a slight Portuguese flavour that sets it apart from the pack.
Co-founder Jose was in town a few weeks ago, so it made sense to sit down with him and have a chat about clothes and that sort of thing.
To set the scene, we were sat in the chip shop around the corner from the Manchester headquarters, both of us had a cup of milky tea and Gold Radio was blasting out some stone cold classics in the background…
Starting at the beginning, how did you get ‘into clothes’?
I had the feeling for a while. I had a shop from 2000 to 2004 called Nova Deluxe.
What were you selling back then?
I was selling things like Psycho Cowboy — brands from the moment, brands that don’t even exist anymore. Then I sold the business to these guys in Lisbon because I had kids and I was doing too many things at the same time.
But Andre, my business partner also had a shop called La Paz Merchant Studio. That’s where the name came from. I was working at an advertising agency, and they wanted to move to Angola, so Andrea said that we should do something together. That was in 2011.
We started to talk about doing distribution and bringing brands to Portugal, but the economy was really low. Then we thought, “Why not do it the other way around? We have all these facilities and factories with no one using them, so why not start doing our own thing?”
What were the first things you lot made?
We did these classic fisherman shirts, these worker jackets and this coat that shepherds have used in Portugal for many years. It was like a Shetland coat, without any sleeves.
Many things are made in Portuguese, but not many of them are actually Portuguese. People found it almost exotic in the beginning.
Loads of stuff is made in Portugal, why is that?
It was huge in the 80s. In Portugal it’s very easy to have the full package. It’s easy to travel there, then you have language, and the working conditions, and the quality is really good. And then there’s the weather and the food…
Yeah it can’t be bad. I’ve never been to Portugal. What’s the Portuguese style? There’s definite French styles or Italian styles, does Portugal have its own style?
Today style is global. There’s no real specific style in Portugal anymore. But years ago our grandparents would dress properly for every occasion. Even if you were going hunting or fishing, you’d put a tie on. And that’s the heritage we like to recreate when we’re designing.
Porto had a very specific approach to fashion in the 80s. Porto is a little bit more Avant Gard than Lisbon. Lisbon is a bit more established, and people dress in a more standardised way. They would wear all the same stuff — Ralph Lauren shirts and Timberland shoes. In Porto, people tried other stuff. You would see punks, mods and movements like in all social sectors. People who didn’t have that much money would go to the street market.
I was the oldest of eight brothers and sisters, so there wasn’t money to buy Levi’s, Converse All Stars and all that, so you had to work with what you’d find in your parent’s closest. You had to work with what you could get.
When I look at pictures from that age, I was wearing a lot of stuff from my father. I’d wear Dunlop sneakers, adidas track jackets, flannel shirts from the street market, maybe a pea coat from my grandfather… we would mix things.
Is this something you try and recreate a bit now? A lot of that vintage stuff has a lot of character.
I think character is the right word. It’s the idea of people buying stuff to last, and maybe not being into fashion, but being into clothing. We sell a lot to older people too. We have a lot of people who are 60 or 70 years old, and they’ll end up buying some nice Shetland jumper and a nice coat.
Why do you think that is? I know you use classic fabrics and stuff, but I don’t see La Paz as an old person’s thing. Is it because old people recognize stuff being well made?
When an old man sees something like a Shetland jumper, it’s like the velour for our generation. Every guy in Portugal in his mid-forties — when they get a velour jumper they’re reminded of their childhood.
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you look at old photographs?
Yeah, we do a lot of research. We work with factories that have amazing archives. There’s a factory in the mountain side of Portugal where there used to be loads of factories. This couple went there and bought a big factory and recovered all the old looms and the archive.
It’s funny because when you tend to see photos of the 40s and the 50s, they’re always black and white, so you tend to assume that people were dressed in a very boring way, which is not true. When you see the archives, you see brilliant fabrics with amazing, florescent colours. And we work a lot around that.
Sometimes people think what we do is very contemporary, but it’s not, it’s been around for many, many years.
It’s like these trousers I’m wearing. I’d seen them in a movie from the 40s. I tried to get a screenshot and we were trying to get the fit from that, but it wasn’t working. But finally I found a pair in a vintage shop in London. They were incredible. So we introduced them last year, and people thought they were a little strange, but now they are our bestselling product.
What film were they from?
It was an Italian film. I think it was Ladri di Biciclette. My wife complains because we’ll be watching a film and I’ll pause it. I’m a bit obsessed with that.
Is that part of the fun — the hunt for these things?
Sometimes it’s a problem. I’m always stopping films and seeing what people are wearing. Someone will have blue jeans, a nice green jacket and a striped shirt, and I’ll think, “Oh man, that really works.”
Do you think people move on too fast? A lot of people want new fabrics and new technology, whereas La Paz finds old designs or old fabrics and makes them current.
Yeah, life is like that nowadays. People rush all day long. They rush in the morning, they dress fast, they arrive in the office and they’re stressed because they need to go to a meeting, then they grab something to eat standing up, and then by the weekend they’re so tired they just want to lie on the sofa. I try to avoid that.
How do you do that?
I try to get up early because the morning is the most peaceful moment of the day. I’ll go surfing or maybe read for an hour and a half a day. I try to slow down a little bit. I always try to have lunch seated with a glass of wine — always. I drink wine with every meal. I like to talk with people.
And we try and do that with the factories we work with. We go there, we have lunch with them, we help around — we’re not just customers. Maybe ten years ago I used to make more money than I do now, but what’s the point in having more money in the bank if you can’t spend it, or you just spend it on stupid things?
Do you think people get swept away with money?
Yeah man, it’s kind of a cliché, but that scares me a lot. You see people getting sick because of stress, and I try and fight that. We travel a lot, we meet people and we try to do it in a proper way. I could have come to Manchester yesterday for just a day, and got back on the train in the afternoon, but what’s the point in that?
I was asking my friend a few days ago when was the last time he had been by himself, and he didn’t have a clue. I try to have moments for myself.
I suppose it’s harder now. Not that long ago you’d get the train to work and you’d have half an hour to yourself, but now everyone is sat on their phones, wired in to everything.
Yeah man. When we are designing, we try to go away for a few days and think about things and how we could do things differently. You need time.
Maybe changing the subject a bit here, but who’s that old guy you use in your photoshoots?
We’ve used the same guy since the first collection. He’s a very nice, humble guy who sells fish nets in the market in Porto. Most people think he’s weird or crazy because they don’t know him. He was sharing a house with my brother’s friend, and the more I got to know him, the more I liked him and wanted to photograph him.
He lives how he lives because he wants to. He is a solitary soul, but he knows exactly what he’s doing and has his own ideas about life. At the end of each day he goes to his room and drinks a bottle of proper wine. He eats at the same café every day. A lot of people think he is a fisherman, because he has this sea wolf face, but he’s definitely a wolf.
I know you surf. How does that come into things? I know La Paz isn’t a ‘surf label’, but surely surfing must influence it a bit.
The surfing visuals from when we started are very strong. It was a sub-culture with bright colours, and it was very 80s. When people look at surfing, they always look at the 70s and the 80s. That’s when it was cool. They were hippies. And then in the 80s there were these strange sunglasses and high-tech materials. But after that it turned boring — all these big brands took over like Quiksilver and Billabong. It’s not cool anymore. I don’t know many surfers who like to wear surf-wear.
Surf is so big now and there are surf schools all along the coast of Portugal, but it’s like football. Twenty years ago they would sit after a game and smoke a cigarette. Even Formula One drivers would drink and smoke weed. Now it’s a bit weird. Surfers have people telling them what they have to eat and how many hours they have to train. It loses a bit of the soul. You’re supposed to be free souls travelling around, but now it’s like every sport.
Do you just keep it old fashioned then?
Totally. We just go. Surf is like meditation. You’re with the nature, it’s silent — you’re just out there with yourself. Even when I go with friends, sometimes we won’t even need to talk. It’s like being naturally stoned. After that you’re ready for work. You’re chilled and you’re going to do better during the day.
I get it’s relaxing if you know what you’re doing, but it looks pretty hard to be honest.
The thing is, the first time you go you must have the right surf board. If it is too big or too small, you’re fucked man. The beginning is hard, but after five or ten times, it just clicks.
Don’t reckon it’d ever click for me haha. Okay, final question… what does La Paz mean?
It’s peace. It’s the Spanish word for peace.