Movers and shakers in the fashion industry
Malta has evolved very rapidly these last years. While many would argue that we have lost our quaintness and our naturalness, the truth is that quaintness is cute in a window and for a few gawping tourists but development is the only way forward. We now have become another type of show window - not for our “native” origins and barefoot antics but for talented, home-grown creations that a few years ago were not thought possible in our tiny island. Charles & Ron are one of our leading creatives who have managed to break into the world of fashion not just in Malta but also abroad. Victor Calleja met them to hear all about their success, their tribulations and their plans for the future.
How did it all start?
Charles: I was very much into sewing. I used to see my aunts, who were seamstresses, producing dresses for various shops. They had real talent even if at the time their designs were very traditional and not too exciting. But I learnt and inherited my obsession with detail from them. I started off sewing men’s jackets in a factory.
Ron: I am the Dutch part of the duo. I was in human resources, actually studying for that line, when I visited Malta a few times and met Charles. He suggested I should move to Malta - which I adored - so I did and we decided to go into professional sewing. Charles started working on my sketches from a bedroom in one of his mother’s house. This was our first - tiny - studio and our start of many joint ventures into the world of fashion. We have never looked back even if the beginning was tough.
How glamorous is the line you’re in?
Charles: It has its moments of pure glitz - like when we are mentioned abroad or by foreigners as the duo from Malta. Ironically, being based in Malta which does not have a fashion culture, makes us interesting to outsiders. We prove something unusual to them - we are exceptions so maybe that makes us exceptional in their eyes. However, we have to slog hard to get noticed, noted and commented about. We do not have any major fashion magazines and the foreign fashion magazines do not come scouting here.
Ron: It’s hard to penetrate the markets but we definitely have set a mark on the local market. The problem is that as a country there is hardly any glamour - we lack any opera and few are the occasions when people - especially women - dress up. For designers to make it they have to first go on the red carpet. Malta has fabulously talented people and it can make it but Malta should tap their resources and not let them leave. Alternatively, it should try to entice them to do at least part of their work here. We have many people who are great at their crafts. We need to energise them and get them on the forefront.
Have you ever exhibited abroad?
Ron: Yes, about 9 times, and the results were very encouraging. The reviews were quite a rave. But the opinion of everyone who saw our work was that we should move abroad - go to Milan, get into the circuit, be seen and be talked about. That would be great - but life in Malta is more congenial to us. We love living here. The tempo might be calmer but the life is fuller and more fulfilling.
Charles: Maybe not fulfilling in a creative way - although we are getting there - but definitely in a deeper way. And while we are here, to exhibit abroad is not easy. It’s quite an expense and besides you have to produce way above what is needed locally. Our work has to go on so all the clothes we produce for the shows abroad have to be over and above what we do to keep going because the day-to-day life goes on. You can’t stop your production for the local clientele. It’s not easy at all. But it is exciting.
Were there any highlights abroad?
Charles: Well, being on RAI, the Italian state broadcasting channel, was an unbelievable feat. We were excited and it was super rewarding. Being on a programme with a viewership of 8 million is hard to believe - we from the little island of Malta - and the response was terrific.
Ron: We had a fashion slot on a programme that was filled by Chanel the week before. Even uttering that name with ours makes me sweat and my heart race. The number of contacts we made through that programme was unbelievable. Participating in Toronto Fashion Week was also a highlight in our career.
What is your main market?
Charles: Age-wise it varies but mainly our clients are 25 years and over. We design and make wedding dresses, evening wear and dresses for people attending weddings. Besides this we also organise two collections a year and have recently opened a shop at the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa where we sell our collection, including our new line of leather bags. We recently refurbished the shop and now it is open for business again.
Ron: We are both self-taught but Charles is extremely accurate in all he does and follows design beautifully. Mainly people come to us to create an impression, so we have to give them something really good. We can’t let them down when they have chosen us over everyone else.
How long does it take you to deliver a dress?
Ron: It’s not always easy to say but it takes about three days roughly. Most clients ask us to guide them and give them a design but when they do come with their own designs, if we realise that it does not suit their shape, occasion or style we give them an option which we think would suit them more. More often than not they opt for ours.
Charles: Usually it’s because Ron has a feel for the proper look and style which the client might not see but which then, in subsequent discussions, they appreciate we - especially Ron - are right about.
And finally how easy is it to work together? Do your talents or temperaments clash?
Charles: It was easy to work together. It was as if we were made for each other. Our temperaments and work output complement each other perfectly.
Ron: When you have similar passions few clashes last or impede you from moving on.
Victor Calleja has been involved in publishing, marketing, and anything concerning the written word, for over thirty years. He is now a part-time but very opinionated journalist who delves deeply into a number of subjects.