Interview with fashion designer Inacio Ribeiro of Clements Ribeiro for issue one of the award winning Cat People Magazine.

Claire Oldman chatted over a Skype screen to Inacio Ribeiro, one half of celebrated London fashion design duo Clements Ribeiro, about life with partner Suzanne, children Hector and Violet and their two British Blue cats Marie and Toulouse. (Named by Violet after Disney’s Aristocats.) They discussed Clements Ribeiro’s recent move from London to the Shropshire countryside, how they met because they were late for St. Martin’s every morning, the Scottish connection, their love of Paris and the French, mutual friends with cats, Brazil and its butterfly trays, the seminal Punk Trousseau collection, life through an Instagram filter and forging inventive new online frontiers.

C: How is Edinburgh going?

 I: It’s amazing. We had a show here last night that went really, really well and we’ve had such amazing weather. We feel like moving to Edinburgh.

C: Do you have suppliers in Scotland, or a connection with Scotland already?

I: We do. The Scottish elements that you saw in the show all came from a collection which is seminal, to us, called Punk Trousseau, in 1997. And that’s when we used tartan for the first time. We had the mini-kilts; we had the embroidery with the peacock. And all the cashmere and knitwear has always been done in Scotland, so yes that’s the link.

C: Are you leaving today?

I: Suzanne stays here until Monday with the kids. But tomorrow I’m leaving for a week in Brazil – I have a workshop to lead in my hometown [Belo Horizonte] on Tuesday.

C: Do you go back there often?

I: As a family we try to go once a year. Not this year, as our lives are so convoluted at the moment. We’re renovating our house in London, and in the process we’ve moved up to our house in Shropshire and we’ve got this show … so it’s a bit all over the place.

C: Do Violet and Hector enjoy going to Brazil?

I: They love it. Hector wants to live there.

C: I was looking at your Instagram…

I: I was going to say, if you want to do your cat homework on us… that’s the place to look. But obviously, Instagram is our edited life. Everything looks gorgeous – it’s literally through rose tinted glasses.

C: Toulouse and Marie are British Blues aren’t they?

I: They are, and they’re brother and sister.

C: I have a cat called Lola, who’s a very beautiful tabby. And I’ve met Quincy [our mutual friend Jaja’s cat] several times.

I: He’s just too gorgeous for words.

C: He’s amazing; he’s like a person, or a dog. 

I: Our cats are like dogs. They’re incredible. I’ve never had cats before. Suzanne is the cat woman; I was always a dog guy. Four years ago, after our wire-haired terrier was attacked in Holland Park, we decided to get a cat. This Russian lady who breeds them offered them to us. She doesn’t sell them, she gives them to people that she likes! But she said you have to have the two of them. So we ended up with Marie and Toulouse.

C: Marie looks more comfortable with the camera.

I: Yes she is. She’s completely neurotic as well. But I love her of course. I love troubled women – troubled females rather. Female trouble! She’s very naughty.

C: And what about Toulouse? Is he just very relaxed?

I: I mean we get on really well, but he’s in his own world. He’s fine; he’s not craving attention as much as Marie.

C: I’m going to start a campaign to see more of Toulouse on Instagram.

I: The thing about cats is that we all seem to use them as alter egos, don’t we? It’s something we don’t do with dogs. Jaja does it literally, when she takes a photograph and literally puts Quincy in front of her face. Her pictures are so stylish. But I lived between London and Paris for years and I love French people. I can relate to them in a way.

C: Me too! I also go to Paris a lot.

I: So you can relate to Jaja’s taste. You can “get” her Frenchness. When you get a French person that loves England, you get the two aspects blended, which is quite magical.

C: There’s a different view on culture, and a genuine interest in the arts, which English people sometimes lose.

I: The magazine Jaja collaborated with, Corpus, is typical. With the editor Victoire de Taillac as well - you see how engaged they are, in a way that you don’t have in England. That’s my great fascination with them. I love the British for lots of reasons, but they certainly don’t have that.

C: You feel more valued as a creative person in the arts when you go to France.

I: They really treasure it. I remember being treated, as a designer in Paris, as someone really special and I thought, I like that! We stopped our line for four years, when we were working for Cacharel. I went there every week and felt as if I was living in Paris, becoming acquainted with everybody in the neighbourhood.

C: So it must have been a hard decision to stop working with Cacharel.

I: It was, but Suzanne and I – she is way more free spirited than myself, but the more time I spend with her, the more free spirited I become. What we both have in common that we don’t like to stay put too long. We have only one life, so why should we spend the entirety of it living in just one single way? There are lots of other kinds of existence that we can, and must experience.

C: Is that how the house in Shropshire came about?

I: We’d been in London for more than 20 years, so we started to get fidgety. Neither Suzanne nor I have a legitimate claim on any place other than London. Suzanne moved to London at the same time as me, and we met because we were in the same class, and lived in the same neighbourhood, so we took the train at the same time every day.

C: That’s so sweet!

I: We were always fifteen minutes late, so we were always in the train carriage together.

But our daughter Violet had a friend whose family had a house in Shropshire. They invited Suzanne to spend a weekend there with Violet and after half an hour she called me and said, “Inacio, this place is amazing.”

C: You posted a picture of Carmen Miranda recently. Has that got something to do with spring summer 14?

I: It does, yeah. For many reasons I’ve had a bit of a Brazillian Proustian moment. So the next collection is inspired by Rio. I don’t know if you’re familiar with butterfly trays, from Rio? In the 20s, 30s and 40s it was a typical souvenir from Rio. It’s a tray made out of rosewood, which is a wood that is now endangered and you can’t use it. And they used butterflies…

C: And they’re varnished into it?

I: Exactly.

C: Yes I’ve seen them!

I: We have a collection of those, and it’s important to us. So the collection is about that, and Rio itself. 

C: Fantastic. So what point are you at?

I: We’re waiting for the samples to come back. They’ll come back next week but I’ll be in Brazil.

C: When you’re in Brazil are you out of contact?

I: That’s the beautiful thing about the Internet – we’re always within reach. We’re going to be redesigning our website, also we’re going to go e-native with our business. We’re going to put our entire business online. We discussed this idea with Natalie Massenet to launch it during London Fashion Week. But effectively that means we’re going to be launching it, doing everything online – and the main place to buy our collection will definitely be our website. At the moment it only sells a selection, whereas from next spring we will sell the entire collection. We’ll also be launching a new brand within Clements Ribeiro, with all kinds of products. But I’ll keep you expecting that. [Laughs]

C: Will it be announced at fashion week this season?

I: Yes.

C: Oh, that’s very exciting.

I: It’s a new concept, which is inspired by Shropshire, or what Shropshire stands for. It’s the most exciting thing for us. We’re going to start quite small; it’s a very small offer. But the scope for the brand is enormous and because we’re an independent brand – we don’t have a backers or anything, then we can explore it.

C: I saw some advice you’d given to would-be designers and it was something like, “Aim big, start small.”

I: Yeah, one step at a time. It’s exactly that. I think to go anywhere you need to think big.

C: Two last things: You’ve made a few cat related items and prints over the years. How do you develop your prints?

I: The cat collection was the one that celebrated our re-launch in 2009.

Toulouse and Marie were kittens and we decided to celebrate them with a dedicated collection. The piece de resistance was the cat dress depicting them in silk velvet appliqué, with zip tape as lashes, jet buttons as eyes and lurex whiskers!

Pussy Willow belongs to our Pop collection of 2001.

The precursor of them all was the Kitty sweater of the Punk Trousseau collection of 1998 - a plain black cashmere jumper with a cat face crystal appliqué.

We create all of our prints and work closely with an artist and long time collaborator. She picks up our elements and develops them as prints following our directions. They are the first thing we do for each collection, the theme being defined by them and the designs and shapes following. It is through fashion serendipity that we clip our ideas together, a process we both enjoy immensely.