Clara Pinto doesn’t see herself as a fashion designer. She does not follow the timelines, nor the unspoken rules of the fashion industry. And if you ask her, the 30-year-old rising star will reiterate that she’s not a textile designer either.
“I’m not an artist because I don’t work on a concept from beginning to end, I’m a mix of everything,” says Clara. “I am drawn to the versatility that each project brings, may it be from costume design to textile design, I am consulting for a textile designer currently.”
She’s still considering the question. “Yes, I make clothes, but I’m not a fashion designer.”
Pinto was born in Buenos Aires and grew up in a home where art took prevalence. Her mother is an artist.
“My parents always made sure I was signed up to all the art courses and talleres. There are techniques which I learned when I was about eight years old of which I still use today.
“When I was 12 years old I went to the artist Nicola Constantino’s course on fine art which truly changed my life. I was there for two years, from 12 to 14. It really influenced me.”
Pinto remembers that time with great fondness. “With her I learned technique, I learned a lot of tools and formed my technical background there. A lot of people ask me if I always knew that I wanted to work as a designer, but the truth is that when you’re 17 all you have is your education.”
After graduating secondary school she jumped into fashion design at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA). There she developed her work ethic, which remains evident in her practice today – Clara works on her own and creates every piece of her collection by hand.
In her first year at UBA, she recalls that her work was regularly picked out from her 500-student class, the fruit of late-night work sessions and insomnia. “It’s incredible how much is expected of young students in their first year at UBA,” she remembers.
Three years later, Pinto began a degree at Institute ABM focused on needlework and dressmaking. The attraction was obvious, she admits, one of its lead tutors was revered artist Delia Cancela, a prominent figure on the international global fashion circuit in the 1970s. The two quickly established a bond and Pinto became her personal assistant, in turn leading to a meeting with young Argentine designer Juan Hernández Daels (currently based in Paris with his SADAELS brand).
Five days after graduating from ABM, Pinto moved to London, without a second thought. She caught the eye of leading fashion publication Not Just a Label and was selected in 2016 as their ‘Black Sheep’ designer, distinguishing her as someone to watch out for.
Not everything was going to plan, though. London wasn’t easy, the 30-year-old says, looking back. But she kept pushing herself, assisting the former head designer of Vivienne Westwood, followed by a stint at fashion house Peter Pilotto.
While on a textile-focused residency in the north of Iceland, she visited the local horse slaughterhouses, seeking discarded horse tails which she cleaned and dissected for use. For Pinto, it all comes down to connection with the material. “I care about garments that are long lasting, as well as them having meaning for my client. I want it to have a purpose,” she says.
“For me this is sustainability. What you shouldn’t be doing is buying [clothes] all the time. We have to teach consumers that garments can be long lasting, If clothes are longer lasting, then the price for them can be higher and through this you’ll allow for a sustainable production chain where all stakeholders are well paid. This will allow for the whole system to be regenerated.”
Pinto works with a mix of by-products, offsets and upcycles. She designs within the limits imposed by what she has around her: from sequins she inherited from her great aunt to Patagonian wool from her homeland.
“I use plastic in my work but it’s all recycled. I don’t reject it. I do not want to stimulate the production of it, but I really do have a tendency of working with what’s around me, I find beauty in a lot of things where people wouldn’t generally.
“I feel really empowered when I find something and make it happen. I’m not necessarily that conscious… I’m not Stella McCartney – I find that the strength of my work comes from using discarded materials and giving them new life.”
In Pinto’s approach every aspect of each creation must be considered. “I don’t make collections for the sole purpose of selling, I present a collection and through that collection I experiment with different ways of using materials and techniques,” she says. “It’s a mix of bringing in new elements with a morphological investigation of what’s possible with the materials at hand.”
The same consideration applies to clients too. As Pinto works at her own rhythm, she is able to present designs to potential and existing customers as a tangible reference for new made to measure dresses and pieces. “What I want is for the individual [the client] to see the collection, try different pieces on, see how they identify with the pieces and then from that experience we will move into the design process.”
It’s not just about sustainability, but durability, she says. “If I can offer something that people will cherish, take care of and use on special occasions… I think that’s very sustainable.”
Clara recently completed a residency at the prestigious Sarabande Foundation, founded by the late British designer Alexander McQueen. After finishing, she flew back to Buenos Aires to work on her new collection ahead of an upcoming exhibition which was set to open to the public this past May.
But then, as it did to us all, the coronavirus arrived. Plans were disrupted, but they were also made. Pinto ended up using the exhibition space as her studio, where she designed and built her latest collection.
Enter the Monastery explores symbolism within the oneiric dimension. Pinto says she sought to produce voluminous pieces, with shreds of transparency, with the aim of linking the state of consciousness with the unconsciousness of dreams.
As well as her own eponymous line, Clara is also working on a new London-based sustainable print-based line, called Department of Rojo, focused on Argentine identity. This endeavour is the fruit of a partnership with Pinto and another fellow Argentine, Nicole Haberl. All of their textiles come from unsold fabrics that would have otherwise gone to a landfill.
The mission is clear: all garments will be labelled with a unique identification number, hand-made and hand printed. Some might see sustainability as a trend, but Pinto is passionate about positive change: “If you buy something from the right place, and you know it comes from a transparent system, it will last.”