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Sun, Nov 09, 2008
Urban, The Straits Times
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Colours with custo
by Clara Chow

Barcelona has hitherto been known for its eye-popping architecture and football team. Now, a fashion label is set to make Singaporeans associate the Spanish city with breezy, colourful chic.

Enter Custo Barcelona, which will open at Ion Orchard shopping mall next year. The 1,100 sq ft stand-alone boutique is the label's first foray into the market here and will stock its trademark printed tops, bottoms and dresses for women, and casualwear for men. Prices average US$80 (S$120).

The 25-year-old brand is the brainchild of two brothers, Custo and David Dalmau, who founded their fashion empire after a motorcycle trip landed them in California.

Enamoured by the bright, innovative T-shirts which dominated the Golden State's style, they started experimenting with screen-printing and graphical designs on clothes in the 1980s.

In 1996, they launched the Custo Barcelona line. It now has about 60 stores worldwide, including Colombia, France, Italy and South Korea, to name a few countries.

At the New York Fashion Week last month, the brand's spring/summer 2009 collection saw Bridget Bardot-esque models clad in an explosion of candy and neon colours.

Key looks included a yellow bikini paired with a feathered capelet, which brought to mind a sexy fluffy chick (in both senses of the word) and shimmery flouncey tulle-chiffon skirts.

The men, meanwhile, were sent out in loud, psychedelic suits a la Austin Powers.

The 25-year-old label Custo Barcelona, known for its bright hues and riotous patterns, is the brainchild of brothers Custo (above) and David Dalmau from Spain.

Given his penchant for riotous patterns, it was surprising then that the line's 51-year-old designer Custo (short for Custodio) - brother David, 47, runs the business aspects - revealed he lives in a completely white house in the mountains, next to a national park two minutes from Barcelona.

'I just like it,' he said of the hue-challenged house he shares with his four children, aged 17, seven, three and one. His wife, Eva, works in his company's sales department.

'Wild boars are my neighbours.'

During an interview at his Soho atelier a day before the brand's New York City showcase, Custo exuded Balearic warmth as he pottered around with assistants to confirm the line-up of models and outfits.

Asked what it was like working with his brother, he replied that it made sense, adding: 'I like to take risks more than him.'

He abandoned his architecture studies in part to start a motorcycle accessories business with David. That venture, which has since sputtered out, bore David's name, hence the naming of the fashion line after Custo.

Said Custo: 'When we started this project, we didn't even know that fashion existed.'

Nevertheless, they went on to win early fans such as Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman. These days, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce have also been spotted in Custo's designs.

The designer, who often sources for materials and ideas in Bangkok and has branched out into designing homeware and interiors, said that colour, graphics and the mix of fabrics are key in his creative process.

'You have to assemble the puzzle until every piece falls into place,' he explained.

While he admires formidable Spanish high-street fashion export Mango for its astute business savvy and aggressive expansion, he said Custo Barcelona will remain - for the moment, at least - one for the niche market.

Nevertheless, the brand is already eyeing a bigger slice of the retail pie by going into areas such as eyewear, fragrances, swimwear and watches.

What product would he like to produce if reality was no constraint? 'A watch that reverses time,' came the ready, smiling reply.

Should the brand really take off in Asia and beyond, the busy designer will definitely need it.

This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times on Nov 7, 2008.

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