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If I see you in Heaven by Guillem Turro

Committed to sustainability and the struggles of the queer community, Barcelonian designer Guillem Turro talks to us about the beginning of his career, his current projects, ant the importance of combining strong values and design.

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza & Giulia Dattrino

Siempreviva by Guillem Turro

Guillem welcomes us from his home in Barcelona ​​with a cheerful greeting and a brightly coloured shirt. It is the middle of summer and we begin our meeting talking about the weather, the Catalan beaches and all the plans that the chaos of this year has delayed. Conversation flows with this lively-looking, easy-smiling Spanish designer. “I feel good at home,” he admits. “After studying in London and gaining professional experience in England, the Netherlands and northeastern Spain, coming back to my hometown is nice, it allows me to see it with fresh eyes.”

With a background studying fashion and working in big corporations, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Carolina Herrera, Guillem now designs shoes with a key focus on the process of upcycling. “I’m very grateful to be able to work in super creative projects that I would never have had the chance to do whilst in a corporate environment,” Guillem states when looking back on his corporate days. He is now fully invested in his own projects with the goal of pushing his aesthetic boundaries and stimulating his creative thinking, with no briefs or deadlines, simply to add more to his shoe upcycling portfolio.

Guillem explains that his love for fashion stems from his childhood, inspired by his mother and grandmother who owned a fabric shop, he still incorporates their style in his work, “an opulent and Versace’esque over-the-top late 80s, early 90s aesthetics.” As a fan of early pop culture, his main inspiration comes from people and cultural movements of the time. “I don’t draw inspiration from nature or architecture, I really like people.” Models and actresses are the biggest inspiration for his work, especially between the 60s and 90s: “The swinging 60s in London, the postmodern revolution in the 80s leading to glam punk, and the very luxurious 90s.” Grace Jones is one of Guillem’s many muses; one that was a powerful icon who pushed boundaries and clearly left her mark in society.

The designer describes his pieces as referential, “I always like the shoes to transport you to another time, or to a particular person or fashion movement.” Not being a fan of minimal design, Guillem’s passion lies in creating bold, eye-catching designs.

Vintage, upcycling and reusing are the words the artist uses to describe sustainability. “I also strongly believe that everything has been done already so you have to merge ideas together to make something new out of it”, he declares. Always on the lookout for materials for future pieces, Guillem can often be found in vintage shops, old haberdashery houses, and even abandoned buildings. “It’s a slow process but it’s mostly just keeping an eye out for where you can find these leftover, unused items that could be here or there.”

Like a Virgin by Guillem Turro

The desire to upcycle came from his first university project, “Primark Upcycle”. The idea came from the “Primark effect”, which describes landfills being completely overloaded with tons upon tons of disregarded clothes and garments. The project hypothesised Primark, a UK highstreet fashion brand, making something out of their unsold items and challenging the press in what they called landfills of clothing “the Primark effect”, damaging the brands image. Another source of inspiration for Guillem’s upcycling comes from the memories and emotions that fashion pieces spark from the past; they carry a part of their story, enriching each piece.

Probed about his more social projects, Guillem tells us that he is very involved with the defense and demands of the Queer community. “Whilst in London, I began to take a stand in this fight. I mostly got involved through a friend of mine who ran two queer bars and who himself was highly involved in activism,” he says. “In fact, my bachelor’s thesis was dedicated to honoring those who fought in the past, allowing us to enjoy the rights obtained over the last decades.” 

The Barcelonian designer refers to a very personal project in which he created a complete line of footwear, dedicating each model to a gay personality who died in the 70s, 80s and 90s, like Franco Moschino or Gianni Versace. “It included not only designers, but icons who left a great impression in the fashion industry and on me personally, such as pop artists, performance artists, and others,” he explains.

EPILOGUE for the PostmodernCabinetOfGayCuriosities by Guillem Turro

“I received support from the Belgian organization Designers Against AIDS (DAA), and this was a huge boost for my thesis.” Guillem tells us how the fight against this disease has evolved over the years and how it has played a huge part in the stigmatization of the Queer community. “In the 80s, it was all about preventing people from dying, it was dire. Over the years, the situation has changed and there are now very few deaths in Europe and the United States from AIDS, but much remains to be done in terms of social acceptance of HIV-positive people. Actions now have to focus on making people more conscious.”

Back in Spain, Guillem continues to contribute to the cause: most recently, in collaboration with a photography contest organized by the national HIV organization CESIDA. “My stage in London, a very open-minded city and possibly my favorite place in the world – sorry Barcelona – helped me realize that I wanted to actively participate in bringing certain social problems to light and in breaking boundaries,” he shares. “In the fashion and pop music industries, there are fewer social prejudices than before, but the reality in other sectors is very different, and raising awareness remains crucial.”

“I want to continue participating in such initiatives, fighting for causes that are close to my heart, such as the rights of transsexual people and those of other vulnerable social groups.” Guillem’s smile has dropped and in the serious tone that takes precedence, his commitment to these issues is palpable. “Even though modern-day Barcelona is a progressive and tolerant city, there is still a portion of its population that, due to plain ignorance, is very conservative. Using my designs to help marginalised groups of people stand out is my way of showing support and my contribution to the world,” he states.