Spanish-born designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada has two words of advice for optical retailers: Sell color. “Color is necessary,” she emphasizes. “It can change your life. Doctors should tell patients not to wear black for six months. Black has become a uniform in cities like New York and Madrid, but it’s depressing. Just like we feel better on a bright, sunny day, we feel better when we are surrounded by vibrant colors.”
Ruiz de la Prada, who celebrated her 30th anniversary in design in 2011, defines her creations as very free and colorful, very easy to recognize—reflecting a point of view instilled with humor and optimism. “When I first started in the business in Madrid, I was told my styles were impossible to sell. They were too avant-garde, too crazy.” At that point she was only selling to a very small and close circle of friends and family. Then she designed a collection for El Corte Ingles, a large department store group headquartered in Madrid. The collection was well-received and helped greatly in getting her career started, she says.
Though the label began as a womenswear collection, it has since grown into a worldwide lifestyle brand, incorporating menswear, children’s clothing, linens, accessories, gift items, furniture, stationery, fragrances and eyewear, which she has been selling through a license with Barcelona-based Optim for 20 years. She also has freestanding stores in Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Paris and in New York City’s Tribeca.
Wherever her products are sold, the designer feels it’s essential people selling the product know about her philosophy and what her collection stands for and can convey this information to consumers. “I think a fashion designer either gets his or her direction from drawing or sewing,” she notes. “Mine comes from drawing. I have always liked art and wanted to be a painter. I drew a lot and loved it. I have an obsession with and a love for contemporary art. In fact, I get most of my inspiration from contemporary art and spend a lot of time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It’s a very special place.”
Another major influence on Ruiz de la Prada’s work has been her longtime collaboration with Swatch watches. “I worked with Swatch for 20 years, and that has a lot to do with how I feel about design,” she explains. “I’m not interested in expensive products. Everyday products don’t need to be elegant. If you want elegance, you can go to a museum, a concert or an art event. What I’m interested in is niceness and intelligent product. Anything too expensive has to be taken too seriously. I don’t want to design dresses just for galas. I want to design for ordinary people for ordinary events.”
She has also been influenced by other designers and cultures. “My favorite designer is Yves Saint Laurent. I went to a retrospective recently in Madrid that had highlights from every year of his career. It was incredible. And I have always been a big admirer of Balenciaga. I get strong emotions just from seeing Balenciaga designs. They are phenomenal. I like Japanese designs and designers such as Issey Miyake. The first time I visited Japan I was very impressed by the culture. I also like Prada and Marc Jacobs. I admire Victor & Rolf for their sense of humor. It’s much like Moschino was 20 years ago.”
Of all the products she designs, she does find eyewear one of the more challenging even though it’s been successful for her, the second best-selling eyewear brand in Spain, according to Optim. “With a tie or a notebook, for example, it’s easy to create a product that carries a recognizable brand identity,” Ruiz de la Prada says. It’s more difficult with eyewear, especially because people have not always wanted much color on eyeglasses. “Fortunately consumers are now starting to accept a little bit of color on their eyewear. But a little bit of color is not enough color for me. I also prefer to design smaller collections with more attitude, but the optical industry tends to lean toward big collections that have more general appeal.” However, eyewear is very important to the design business and it’s very important to her on a personal level. “I had perfect eyesight when I was young. Then at some point someone gave me a pair of reading glasses. I was amazed at how well I could see. Now I can’t live without readers, but I’ve become like the grandmother, who loses them 10 times a day. So I have lots of pairs in lots of colors.”
Her favorite color, she says without hesitation, is fuchsia, which is apparent in the Tribeca boutique. A large fuchsia heart logo punctuates the wall. She also likes orange and most colors as long as they aren’t black.
Asked what she would do if she weren’t in the fashion business, Ruiz de la Prada responds, “I think being a fashion designer is the best possible career choice. Forty years ago if you were a designer, you could only do one thing—design clothes. Now fashion covers all aspects of life from gardening to food to architecture. I once looked at a book that listed 1,000 possible professions. I started underlining what interested me. I did a lot of underlining—art, film, etc. By being a designer, I can easily move from one profession to another. And that’s marvelous.” ■