À Capucha is a Portuguese saying for doing something modestly or discreetly, which also reveals the distinctiveness of the enduringly popular and rural nature of Portuguese crafts production. The traditional cloaks by À Capucha are made to embody the Portuguese heritage by highlighting traditional folk and innovative sophisticated features. Each capucha is entirely handmade in a small village in the mountains in the inlands of Portugal where a group of artisans weave, sew and embroider, using linen, wool and burel.
What is the story behind your À Capucha’s creations?
We have always been very keen on learning and researching about Portuguese heritage, especially what concerns to know-how and traditional manufacturing techniques. ‘À Capucha’ is also a Portuguese saying that means doing something modestly or discreetly, which also reveals the distinctiveness of the enduringly popular and rural nature of Portuguese crafts production. While we were going through that research back in 2012 at Central Saint Martins, in London, we came across the “capucha”. We soon realized that it would be the perfect object to start our project on communicating to the world this very particular way of making things.
“ ‘À Capucha’ is also a Portuguese saying that means doing something modestly or discreetly, which also reveals the distinctiveness of the enduringly popular and rural nature of Portuguese crafts production. “
Why? Because it is a very ancient object, its appearance is dated back in the 11th century and is an extremely simple but versatile object, having multiple uses and applications. Its shape and material were improved throughout several centuries, turning it into a functional, as well as exquisite object. Therefore we had an object which is still relevant nowadays and made of a traditional Portuguese fabric produced and embroidered only by a few skilled artisans. It was the perfect “case-study” to focus on the critical valorization of the craft - by adapting the traditional technique to the production of a high-quality contemporary product - and on the history behind it.
What's the highlight feature of your creation?
At Estufa, we like to create objects for those who appreciate uniqueness, quality and the small details capable of telling the stories behind each piece. Our pieces embody the Portuguese memory, design and know-how, highlighting their local and global aspects, as well as their folk, sophisticated, traditional and innovative features. So we believe it is a combination of factors what makes these pieces so meaningful to our buyers.
“Each capucha is entirely handmade in a small village in the mountains where a group of artisans weave, sew and embroider, using linen, wool and burel.“
The capucha has obvious qualities as a garment, offering shelter against the cold and the rain; its material, the burel, a traditional Portuguese fabric 100% wool, is, other than being extremely warm, also impermeable! But then there is this strong emotional connection with the object since it has such an ancient existence. It has been used by shepherds and farmers for centuries in every cold region of Northern Portugal. Once it is placed over the head, it allows a total freedom of movements during the rural chores. Each capucha is entirely handmade in a small village in the mountains where a group of artisans weave, sew and embroider, using linen, wool and burel. And this is why each piece is so special: it is branded by the hands that made it on request and specifically tailored for each one of our clients.
Capuchas have been used by shepherds and farmers for centuries in cold regions of Northern Portugal.
For those that don’t know about the team behind A Capucha, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves and what you all do?
We are graphic and communication designers who met at college, then we travelled to Buenos Aires, New York, London, Barcelona to work and study for a while and after we decided to come back to Portugal and start our own studio. We founded Estufa, a design consultancy literally a “hothouse” for design, as the name implies where we devise design strategies to grow brands, products and organizations. We like to surround ourselves with beautiful objects, we like to get to know those who know how to make them and we like to share ideas on how to make them even better. We explore the very overlap between design, manufacturing and quality, selecting one-of-a-kind pieces and enhancing those processes which ensure functionality and quality. To celebrate to the richness of Portuguese know-how, we launched the brand À Capucha! (re)creating the cape, a traditional cloak used by shepherds and peasants. À Capucha! Is inspired in traditional Portuguese models and makes use of ancestral manufacturing techniques.
What does your creations say about you? How does it represent / reflect your personality and thoughts as a creator?
We are designers, so we love to solve problems through creative solutions, and we envisioned a problem with the Portuguese crafts context: because of a fast modernization process, a large part of these activities haven't updated their framework nor have repositioned themselves to become competitive in the modern market. They are now in risk, which means that a great part of our intangible cultural heritage also is.
“We were interested in proving that a traditional artisanal technique could produce high quality contemporary products without changing its process of manufacturing, environment and human resources.”
So we had this very clear idea of what we wanted to do: we were interested in proving that a traditional artisanal technique could produce high quality contemporary products without changing its process of manufacturing, environment and human resources. The capucha was the perfect “case-study” to start with, reinforced by the fact that it is also a very local and traditional object but still relevant in a global environment. So it’s this commitment to a place, its people and its history that moves us. Bringing the past and the present together and making whatever we can for the maintenance of the Portuguese artisanal techniques, by contributing to a sustainable production and by protecting a heritage that makes us unique and timeless.
What do you feel are your design studio’s main principles and ideals? And in what way has that translated into your work, the way you operate?
We are small and we would like to stay that way. So we like to be able to have some sort of freedom in choosing our projects and clients. We like to have close relationships with the people that we are working with. We hate being briefed by email and send quotes by email and never get to know the client, the supplier or the collaborator we are dealing with. You know...good things take time so we like to have that time in the work we do.
Can you tell us about the materials you use? where do you source them? did you experiment with others?
Our pieces are made of burel, a traditional Portuguese fabric, 100% made of wool. We get it all from a small local factory in the mountain region of Serra da Estrela, in the inlands of Portugal, who still produces it, because it is kind of difficult to find those who still manufacture burel.
“The entire process is fascinating because after it is weaved, it is pounded in water using a fulling mill, turning it into a thick and impermeable fabric.”
The entire process is fascinating because after it is weaved, it is pounded in water using a fulling mill, turning it into a thick and impermeable fabric. Due to the fact that it is a functional and resistant fabric, which can be cut and shaped in many ways (since its firmness helps to avoid the need of stitches or finishes), we can’t let it disappear ever!
How is it made?
To build À Capucha!’s first collection we invited designer Helena Cardoso and the Arões Group of Artisans to create a series of 5 original hoods. In the beginning we used to spend our working days between our studio in Porto, the burel factory in Serra da Estrela and the artisans workshops in Arões, defining colours, materials, models, shapes, embroideries, and sizes. With the system was defined, we now manage the process mainly from our studio in Porto, though we visit our makers quite often. We believe in the importance of having a close relationship with everybody involved in the process because this way we keep changing details, improving processes, having new ideas! Working in a close team environment teaches us a lot everyday, because our know-how is opposite to theirs and that’s the whole point of this project, to bring together different people, different environments, different methods to make the best product possible. So usually all our capuchas are handmade by order in the artisan’s workshop in Arões and shipped to us. Then, at our studio, we do quality control, we tag the piece number, since we have small limited editions, we pack it and send it to the client.
Do you look to innovate or experiment with new forming and finishing techniques with each new collection, or is there a traditional process you adhere to?
We are always experimenting and trying to improve all the time. However we are running our very first collection so we have a huge feedback about all sort of details, suggestions, ideas, that we try to absorb and wishfully combine them all in a new collection to come. But...we admit we have to control ourselves not to change this and that all the time because we have new ideas popping up everyday! There are so many great ideas waiting to become real!
What were the challenges when designing these?
While we were researching about the capucha we realized that we were working with an extremely well designed garment, refined by centuries of tradition, and therefore we decided that we shouldn’t change it dramatically. One of the challenges was to “redesign” the piece without detaching it from its original shape, material, manufacturing and consequently its history. In the same spirit, to select 6 original colours to design this collection was also a great challenge. We wanted colours that had some relation with the original background of the capucha, which is very much a natural environment. Simultaneously we wanted atemporal colours, with a classic allure, that could fit the women collection as well as the men collection.
What for you really defines your studio and why do you feel your customer opts to buy the products you make?
At Estufa we like to make thoughtful products and we like to spend time on each aspect because we believe that at the end the details make a difference. On the other hand we also look at a project from an holistic perspective, everything should be articulated within the project. We don’t like to solve a project uniquely from the visual point view, we like to think of it as a whole. For À Capucha!, we took an almost forgotten garment and analysed the history behind it — its process of manufacturing, its shape and functionality and we devised a design strategy that uses the elements that were already there, before bringing the capucha to life.
Can you share with us a little known detail about the design process that you have discovered?
The burel’s manufacturing process is absolutely dazzling! The factory has these old machinery and the whole process about the wool transformation is fascinating. You can have totally different results if you use a different type of wool, even the colour changes depending on the shade of white of the original wool. You learn so much by visiting these people who help your product to become real, our visits to the factory were a serious learning process. Also the way the artisans work taught us that you don’t need much to make a unique, well finished, delicate piece, you just really need to put your heart and hands to it. They work with scarce resources, dividing their time between the rural chores and the workshop, whose in many cases is in the garage or in a small outbuilding next to their houses. In fact it was this way of doing things that also captivated us and that is why we gave this name to the brand — À Capucha! (which as we already mentioned above means doing things discreetly, modestly, quietly).
The capuchas are made of burel, a traditional Portuguese fabric, 100% made of wool. We get it all from a small local factory in the mountain region of Serra da Estrela, in the inlands of Portugal”
The shape and the color palette were carefully redesigned, in order to become more functional and adapted to contemporary usage.
Describe your path to becoming a designer? Were you surrounded by art and design when you were younger? Was it something you picked up from your family, or did it just mature naturally?
Raquel: I have always been in contact with art since I was very young. I remember what it was to me, back then, those long and boring visits to museums that were then traded for some afternoons in the park with huge ice-creams! So my parents have always tried to show me the relevance of having a multidisciplinary education and of learning from different sources. While they never pushed me into an “artistic” path I think those early experiences influenced me in choosing a design career. I still believe I could be doing a ton of different things, but what I like about design is the cross-subject projects you can work on when you have a design studio.
Maria: I come from a family of educators. My grandmother was a teacher, as well as my mother and all my four aunts. Therefore I grew up surrounded by books, listening about calligraphy, travelling all over the country visiting museums and old castles. I could have become a teacher too, naturally, but for me it has always been more about learning than about teaching. So honestly I think I became a designer by exclusion. I have always had an inclination for arts & crafts and when I had to choose, communication design sounded like a discipline where I could explore a lot of different things! It’s nice to realize that it is exactly around this same idea — the multidisciplinarity of design— that we approach and develop our projects at Estufa.
Cecília: For me it is the opposite from Raquel. I’m from a small village in the north of Portugal, and as a child my visits to museums or similars were limited to study tours. However I believe that the natural environment, the extreme freedom to play outside and the local traditions made me grew fascinated by colours, textures and forms. So I think becoming a designer has been a result from both the environment I grew in and probably some innate impulse I had towards the creative work.