| By Estela Ataíde

Susana Bettencourt

"My identity is reflected in what I do"


    She was just five years old when, while on holiday in the Azores, she took up crochet and knitting for the first time, following the example of her grandmother,     her godmother and her aunt, Azoreans deeply involved in this art. But it would only be in London, where she lived for almost a decade, that she would come to truly value the knowhow that had been passed onto her since she was a young girl. With a degree in Fashion Design specialising in Knitwear from the renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and with a master’s degree, with distinction, from the London College of Fashion, it was in these institutions that Susan Bettencourt discovered her creative identity and understood the importance of "handwork" with knitwear.

The fashion designer started to add digital techniques to this traditional inheritance, and so the essence of the Susana Bettencourt brand came into being, its blend of technology and handcraft ensuring Lady Gaga as its first client and, in the meantime, winning over women from around the world, such as fado singer Ana Moura, one of the brand’s clients.
What is the concept behind the autumn-winter 2015-2016 collection you have been presenting?
The Reclaim collection is about reclaiming nature on objects from mankind. My last three collections have been about this theme of nature versus mankind. As a designer and as an artist I find inspiration in many themes and then I feel that a collection never manages to explore the theme in the best way. By sticking to a theme, and not just veering away from it, gives a follow-up to the brand, ensures continuity to the visual aspect, to the brand’s identity, to the story that I want to tell. I hope that this collection marks a turning point in terms of learning, of the brand’s maturity, of taking a risk.  
Speaking of identity, the techniques you use with knitwear were largely responsible for your recognition.
I am trying to have a new vision of arts and crafts; I believe that it is not by being handcrafted that it has to have a necessarily handcrafted look. It can be handcrafted and have a fresh look, a new look, a super contemporary look and I always try, by using my techniques in many different ways, to give a contemporary feel to the collection, while looking out for old techniques.
Is this what you do, for example, when using traditional techniques on unexpected materials?
Exactly. In handwork I try to use techniques with other materials, with pieces of copper in the middle. In the jacquard part, which is known for diamonds or for its chequers, I try to make the image I feel like and transform it into jacquard. What gives me most pleasure developing is the technical part, understanding just how far I can take technology, just how far I can take handwork and how far I can manage to combine the two. Joining these two things and them still making sense is usually the major challenge in every collection.

"The nine years in London helped fuel my creativity greatly"

Is this the essence of your pieces, the conjunction of tradition and innovation?
The brand is what the designer is, or rather, my identity is reflected in what I do. Above all else it was what I most wanted to pass onto the brand, and what I wanted to be seen most was my history, where I come from, the Azorean part. But, for the work to be valued and not left with an old fashioned look, I try to innovate in the best way I can.
You spent nine years in London. What did gain in this period?
In London, what they do most is to help us to discover ourselves, to find out where our potential lies, where it is that we are truly different. They are the ones that helped me find my identity. The nine years in London helped fuel my creativity greatly.   
What made you come back to Portugal?
I got to a point at which I felt the future didn’t lie there, that without support I wouldn’t manage to pay those rents, I wouldn’t be able to live in that city. Therefore, either I shut down the brand I already had and would have to go and work for other people or, to keep the brand going, I would have to go back to Portugal. When I got to Portugal, I applied for a position and went to work for Salsa, which taught me so much in terms of pricing, the industry, dates, and tips so as not to come a cropper. And sure enough it was a very tough year and a half, working full time for another brand, while wanting to keep my brand going.
Has the crisis we’ve been going through affected the fashion industry, and emerging designers in particular?
I’ve only had the brand for three years; I don’t know any other reality. Chanel was set up in the middle of a World War, so if she [Coco Chanel] managed to see an opportunity in the middle of chaos, I also think it possible for me to succeed.
What does succeeding with the Susana Bettencourt brand mean to you?
Succeeding means people being able to see the Susana Bettencourt identity without needing to present the brand. This is very important for me, that every piece manages to have the Susana Bettencourt identity.

Photography by Portugal Fashion/ Ugo Camera

Spring - Summer 2015-2016

Photography by Portugal Fashion/ Ugo Camera

Autumn - Winter 2015-2016

Photography by Portugal Fashion/ Ugo Camera