Palomoʹs call is coming from inside the house

By Aitor Salinas

After seven years of Palomo Spain, the industry seems to have finally caught up with Alejandro Gómez Palomo’s gender-bending fashion. The rest of the world is up next, and he plans to do it one collaboration at a time. In his latest PUMA X PALOMO collection, the Spanish designer offers the world a new vision of sportswear so that the next time you want to buy a pair of sneakers, you might as well be buying into his unique vision of the future.

When one thinks of PUMA, the athletic and casual footwear brand, moiré textile might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Moiré, or watered silk, commonly referred to for its wavy, colour-changing, quasi-holographic effect, is a fabric that has been a staple of Couture since it was first introduced in France under the reign of Louis XV. Initially, it was used as furnishing for wall hangings hung loose between tapestries – like the ones in Christian Dior’s childhood home, which he later replicated, in the same yellow tone, for his house in Paris –but it then quickly made its way into fashion. From the 18th century on, it was used by virtually every single couturier and dressmaker in the country for garments, accessories and even liturgical vestments – for instance, the ferraiolo. This floor-length cape indicates that its wearer is a member of the papal household or an apostolic nuncio, which is why Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga was quite fond of it. Therefore, it is understandable that moiré may not be the primary association when thinking of PUMA unless, of course, you are Alejandro Gómez Palomo.

The effect applied on silk to create moiré gives the fabric a rippled texture that is similar to that of water filtering through the sand on a beach, so it seems fitting that Palomo would choose it as part of the second PUMA X PALOMO collection, which dives into the nostalgic waters of surf culture. Last year, their first collaboration was loosely inspired by Johan Cruyff, an icon of 70s football whom Palomo imagined as a perfect embodiment of his style. This time around, however, he went a bit more personal. “We’ve all had the surfer boy fantasy, right?” the designer asks us (Posadas, 1992). “This idea of having a summer crush on the beach, watching the gorgeous, slightly older than you, blonde surfers that your cousins were crazy about and seeing them as unattainable because you were the fat, geeky, queer kid. You always start from somewhere like that.”

Through its baby blue, mint green and blush pink clothes, Palomo builds a summery retro trip tinted through 60s pastel shades that blend traditional sportswear with the romantic essence of Palomo Spain, creating a softer, more refined vision of PUMA’s signature pieces. Their Slipstream sneaker becomes a heel-less mule, backpacks and pants are crafted with Couture fabrics, and T-shirts lose their opacity thanks to psychedelic pop prints. “At a time when fashion is so fast-changing, we have been fortunate,” he admits. “We designed this collection last year and took the risk of using a particular palette made of three colours, around which the whole collection revolves. Miraculously, they all fit the season and have been part of a bigger, general trend.” For instance, mermaid-core is sweeping TikTok with its oceanic hues and organic silhouettes.

The extensive infrastructure of PUMA provides the Palomo Spain team with opportunities that their artisanal and smaller-scale operation wouldn’t have access to, both in terms of production and distribution. However, their partnership extends beyond mere logistical support. “Our relationship with PUMA is wonderful. We are two teams that genuinely adore each other. We have formed deep connections, and they have become very close friends. We have been collaborating for nearly three years now.” In fact, they have already designed a third collection set to be released in May of next year. “The samples are already made! We designed it four months ago, which means working with a year and a half lead time. It’s incredibly challenging because it’s like trying to predict the future.” Lucky for him, he has been doing precisely that his whole career.

PALOMO’S SPAIN

Alejandro doesn’t reside in any of the fashion capitals. He doesn’t even live in a capital. He resides in Posadas, his hometown in Córdoba, in the south of Spain, a village adorned with white houses, covered in orange dust and inhabited by just over 7,000 people. While his world may be filled with tales of decadent glamour, princes, hunters, delicate boys and childhood fantasies, his everyday life—aside from his weekly visits to Madrid on Fridays—revolves around interactions with local lottery coupon vendors and the breakfast-serving waiters at the nearby bar. These are the individuals he greets as he strolls through his town, the people he has known his entire life, and, ironically, their influence brought his vision to life in the first place.

“I feel very fortunate to live in Posadas. I think I have been able to materialise my work and my ideas thanks to being near my family and the people who have helped me. Still, I remember that, in the beginning, even those close to me would ask: ‘Hell, with all the efforts your parents have made for you to study in London and have an international career, how can you come back here?’. And I would tell them: ‘Listen, I have a plan. If I’m here, it’s for a reason.'”

Posadas has now become an intrinsic part of Palomo Spain’s lore, but initially, that reason was just a few coat orders. Alejandro had been living in London for six years, studying and working, often feeling somewhat miserable and always hoping to lead a more comfortable life once it was over. “I was prepared to pursue some freelancing opportunities but decided to return here for a holiday first. I had to make some coats that had been ordered, so my father told me: ‘Well, why don’t you start here? I have a little office; I can help you clean, and we can talk to María Luisa (a town seamstress who would later become his studio director)’. I wasn’t planning on creating a brand, but I saw that my graduation collection had awakened something in many people, making me want to continue working. So, I decided that I was going to do a collection. I told myself, Let’s try it. Let’s see what happens.” As they say, the rest is history.

HOMEMADE / MODERN KIDS

It’s only been seven years since Alejandro first introduced Palomo Spain to the world with ‘Orlando’, his debut collection in 2016, but his rise to fame has been remarkable. The Spanish press has obsessively documented his every move: from his first show in Paris to his first one in New York, his semi-finalist position in the LVMH Prize both in 2017 and 2022 and his celebrity clients, including the likes of Beyoncé, Harry Styles and Spanish singer Rosalía.

Nevertheless, despite his international success, his operation has remained staunchly local. His team consists of a few friends and other collaborators, split across Madrid and Posadas. However, there was a time not long ago when his team consisted solely of his friends. This applies to the visuals of the brand as well. One of the friends who helped shape Palomo’s vision is photographer Kito Muñoz (Chiclana de la Frontera, 1997). Like most coming-of-age people in the late noughties and early 10s, they met through social media when Kito was still in high school—long before the Valentino, Margiela and Dolce & Gabbana projects and the Vogue Italia commissions.

Back then, Kito was just a boy taking pictures as a hobby. “When I was ten years old, I was given a flip-phone as a present for my first communion, which I used to take my first photos. I remember one of them quite vividly: a selfie in front of a giant orange ball. It stuck with me because that was when my mind started to think about composition and light and things like that. It was the first image I’d taken that I thought looked nice. Of course, if you see it now, it’s probably terrible, but I loved it at the time, and I said, ‘I’ve got to do more stuff like this'”. Which, of course, he did.

“It was all very connected to the Tuenti phenomenon (a predecessor to Instagram that became very popular with the younger demographic in Spain, driving even more traffic than Google and Facebook combined at one point) and because you could see what photos your friends were taking. As a result of that curiosity, an internet community of people from Cádiz started to be created. The more creative kids from school started to take photos of themselves on rooftops and beaches, and that’s how I started: taking photos with my friends.”

That is how he got on Alejandro’s radar, who still lived in London. “I had no idea that there was a little group of Spanish kids like Kito, very modern, very funny and very inspiring, who were doing things like me,” says Alejandro. “‘Gay things like me’, you mean?” specifies Kito, to which Alejandro, laughing, admits: “Yes, very gay things like me.” They met in real life when Palomo invited Kito and his then-creative partner, artist Filip Custic, to his first fashion show. “Madrid was flabbergasted because it was something very new and different, and it was like, ‘Okay, Alejandro is doing something very cool’. And then he offered us the campaign, so they took us to Posadas to take pictures, and we’ve loved each other ever since.”

MANHUNT

Similarly to Alejandro, Kito has developed a highly personal realm where images of pure fashion, such as those by Steven Meisel, intertwine with the homoerotic works of Basil Clavering, Bob Mizer, or George Platt Lynes, resulting in an aesthetic that is both irresistibly seductive and elegantly detached. Their friendship is founded on a shared worldview, fashion and, notably, masculinity, which plays a significant role in their joint projects. Many of the images they have created together emphasise the sexual element of the themes they explore in relation to masculinity, whether it be the desire in the eyes of the boys on leashes in Palomo’s ‘The Hunting’ or the underlying darkness within the apparent purity of the models in ‘Objeto Sexual’.

“I believe it’s an innate instinct within us that is closely tied to the passion we pour into our work,” Alejandro remarks. “I think both of us possess a great deal of passion and, for anyone engaged in artistic expression, love or sex tends to serve as a reference point. At times, you lean towards the romantic, while other times, you embrace the more sensual aspects.” Kito adds: “In the end, inspiration can be anything. You’re walking down the street, looking at a guy who’s not wearing flip-flops and thinking, ‘How beautiful’. Transforming an experience you’ve had or longed for, especially if it has been considered taboo for a long time, is a source of creativity.”

Sexuality often becomes a topic that arises, even when that isn’t initially the intention. “I remember that for ‘The Hunting’, I gave an explanation on the press release referencing a Sunday I had spent in Sierra Morena with my parents, surrounded by the scent of the fireplace and inspired by Velázquez’s paintings,” Alejandro says, “However, people interpreted it as a reference to cruising and manhunting, which was amusing because it wasn’t even on my mind then. Nevertheless, the campaign embraced that direction.”

“That shooting was crazy,” Kito reflects. “We didn’t care about anything back then,” Palomo confirms the sentiment, recalling how Laura Ponte sat on the ground in the middle of the street, eating sandwiches bought from a nearby supermarket, while half-naked guys on leashes crawled out of a metro station in broad daylight. “There’s no way we could do that today, but we had so much fun shooting that,” Kito adds.

In fact, the last one where they had such fun was in Lanzarote for the campaign of the second PUMA collaboration. “I wanted to portray this romantic ideal of the surfer boy in a slightly alien-like way,” Palomo explains. “Exploring the idea of a traditional sports boy, but taken to our world, which is much more Martian. And I knew these beaches in Lanzarote characterised by green water and black sand, and I proposed this idea of otherworldliness to Kito and the team—everyone agreed it was great, so we went for it.”

“The previous one—shot in Valencia for the first PUMA collaboration—had been unbearable due to the suffocating heat. But this one was truly wonderful,” recalls Kito. “Especially because of the models. We flew in a few from London, but most of them were from the islands, and they brought an amazing energy.”

“Everything had this feeling of youth and freshness,” Alejandro adds. “And that’s what inspires us a lot,” Kito emphasises.

“That’s usually our aesthetic, but actually, it would be very on-brand for us to do a campaign around the figure of a good old lady,” Alejandro says. “We’ve always wanted to do that.” “Maybe for the next one?” Kito proposes. “Maybe for the next one,” Alejandro confirms.

PALOMO BOYS

The collaboration with PUMA is a perfect platform to highlight what sets Palomo Spain apart in today’s saturated fashion landscape: a genuine passion for the craft. Palomo Spain creates exceptional garments because Alejandro himself appreciates fine clothing.

“My approach to fashion isn’t about following trends; my designs aren’t meant to be the latest and the greatest. I see clothing as a lifelong treasure, something to hold onto. That’s why I’ve never embraced the aesthetic of deliberate ugliness or fashion meant to look worn out or discarded, which is now common in luxury. For me, it goes against the very concept of it. I’m not about that.” What is modern about his clothes, however, is the concept behind them. “We proposed, at a very specific moment, a way of dressing for men that has taken hold and been relevant.” Indeed. Good clothes can only take you so far, but their provocative nature has made Palomo Spain a household name. His feminine vision of masculinity has translated through the years as the perfect mix between a Luchino Visconti nightmare and a James Bidgood dream. “Of course, it’s a vision constantly feeding from history, but it sweeps back and forth between the past and the present.”

He has created an archetype: the Palomo Boy. An ethereal creature wearing heels, make-up, opulently beaded coats, and outrageous feathered skirts. He wears whatever he wants because, at the heart of his gender-bending vision, the core essence of his creation has always been freedom rather than femininity. The point was never to put men in clothes traditionally reserved for women’s wardrobes but to give them the freedom to make that choice. It’s not about the heels per se but about being able to wear them. “I look back at how things were when I started and remember how I’ve had to swallow condescending chuckles a thousand times. I’ve heard phrases like ‘Oh, you’re the one who puts women’s clothes on men’ or ‘You’re the one who dresses men like women’. There has been a lot of conscious effort to willingly misunderstand what I was doing. And that has turned into a general feeling of admiration and validation for my work. Some sort of respect. Because what is clear now is that I work hard and put my whole life, heart and soul into my collections.”

THE CLOSET

Although not much time has passed, a lot has changed since Palomo Spain presented ‘Orlando’. “People now look at men in fashion with completely different eyes than before, and when I say ‘before,’ I’m referring to five or four years ago,” Palomo explains. However, it is a shift that has permeated outside of the fashion world. “My personal trainer is a straight guy from my village who comes with his nails painted, a pearl necklace around his neck and a mindset that is completely renewed and refreshed, free from the heavy burdens I also had to face during my upbringing there.”

Those emotions were the ones Alejandro tried to shed in his last collection, ‘The Closet’, a look into a contemporary wardrobe as seen through the eyes of a kid who’s playing around in his mother’s clothes. A vision devoid of preconceived ideas of what men should look like. “Growing up, I was lucky enough to have been brought up a free-willed child and my relationship with fashion started when I was alone at home playing with clothes and imagining different worlds. And I felt like I was at a point where I needed to re-understand what it is that always connected me to fashion. Then, I found it easy to delve into old photo albums and discover images of myself with a towel on my head, pretending to have long hair. It was a wonderful exercise to share with my team because we all started locking ourselves in the bathroom, taking our mothers’ clothes, painting our faces and gazing at our reflections in the mirror wearing necklaces and standing on tiptoes.” Because, if anything, Palomo designs for those who were brought up like those kinds of kids. “Sometimes I think that our generation grew up without enough options. Reflecting on it, I think, ‘Hell, maybe I could have liked girls, too.’ Or maybe there’s still time! Or maybe not, but there were moments when we realised at a young age that we liked boys, and we thought, ‘Oh well, this is who I am.’ And now, we have to navigate towards that idea, to construct our gay persona, to come out of the closet, to dress and act in a certain way. We inadvertently closed ourselves off and limited our options to express our sexuality or naturally follow our instincts.”

That’s why collaborations like the one with PUMA are so special. Regular people don’t usually buy couture jackets – they can’t afford them. But they do buy sneakers. And that might just be enough to give someone a gateway to feeling closer to the vision they have of themselves. Or to explore who they have the potential to become. Palomo is infiltrating the mainstream through household names, challenging our views on fashion from the inside.

“That’s why, to me, my biggest achievement is having created fashion with an impact that transcended clothes. I like to think that, in some ways, it has affected the lives of many young people who have grown up without a point of reference and now have a place where they can fit in. I think the beauty of it all is to change people’s way of thinking in some capacity, however small it may be.”

It’s only been seven years since Palomo Spain was founded. It used to be about heels and skirts back then. It’s moiré today. And, as for tomorrow, the door of Palomo’s closet is always open, ready to change your mind. You’re more than welcome to walk right in.

A column by Alexandra Hildreth

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By Aitor Salinas
FROM DUST #23