Raquel de Carvalho: The New Face of Knitwear

Art — 04.06.24

Words by Amber Louise
Creative Direction: Raquel de Carvalho
Photography: Renate Ariadne
Producer & Casting Director: Angel Velluto
Styling Team: Selorm, Kelly Savegnago, Kamara & Rose
Hair: Janina Zais
Makeup: Dasha Taivas
Models: Rue, David, Andréa, Amirah
Photo Assist: Cordelia Ostler
Hair Assist: Mia Violet
Makeup Assist: Sasha Chudeeva

For Brazilian knitwear designer Raquel de Carvalho, every aspect of her life is deeply embedded in her designs. As she develops her newest collection, she talks to Amber Louise about starting her eponymous label, her inspirations, and the vitality of sustainability.

Sitting across from Raquel de Carvalho, her private studio – which appeared much bigger on Zoom – is cosy and intimate, cluttered with inspiration images pinned to boards and stuck to walls, knitted panels strewn across a table and littering a bookshelf, and pins, pens, and sketchbooks scattered across her desk. “I usually have no idea what I’m doing,” she laughs, “I’ll start in this notebook, and then I’ll go over there, and then I’m at home and I have an idea.” She continues to flip through one of her most recent sketchbooks, “Then, I collect everything and put them together, but it’s not something I do, waiting for people to see. That’s not good because then you lose that spontaneity.”

She shows me a selection of pieces from her latest spring/summer collection – a knitted grey dress with metallic thread woven through and a black long-sleeve knit diamond dress catch my eye. But, as she pulls a black intarsia lace knit halter neck top with teal and burgundy metallic woven panels from a storage bin, I note the uncanny resemblance to the 10-year-old undergraduate work she’d shown me just 20 minutes prior. “The main essence of the designs was already there, it just got a little bit more mature,” she comments, explaining how she only notices similarities between past and present designs when someone (like myself) mentions it to her.

Carvalho is more than a knitwear designer, she is an artist. Her signature design, a combination of intarsia and lace, works with the body, accentuating every single curve. Featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue Brazil, ELLE Magazine, and L’Officiel, and worn by the likes of Indya Moore, Lizzie Mayland of The Last Dinner Party, and Pabllo Vittar, her work is gaining traction for its unparalleled nature. Attributable to their construction, her pieces are extremely delicate and fragile, yet they bestow the wearer with an overwhelming feeling of confidence. This comes from her relationship with those around her, especially her muse, performance artist Augusto Cascales, who she met in high school in Brazil at only 15 and has remained friends with ever since. “When you have Raquel de Carvalho on, the clothes aren’t wearing you, you are wearing the clothes,” Cascales tells me, “They exalt the body and you exude confidence from within.”

That didn’t click instantly for Carvalho, though, saying, “It took me a while to understand the role of my clothes in terms of feminism and the power of being a woman.” She notices now that her spirituality is manifested through her work – specifically, her fascination with witchcraft. She converges this darkness (spookiness, even) with strong beauty, deeply inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. When I ask whether she’s found her place within fashion, she says, “I feel so much better now in terms of who I am as a designer. I’m thankful for starting my brand so much later than I thought I should’ve.”

Despite establishing her namesake brand two years ago, Carvalho’s approach to her craft is perpetually fastidious, fusing her signature style with an unrelenting work ethic which has ripened throughout her decade of experience. “In Portuguese, we have this word, ‘gambiarra,’ which is the ability to work with what you have and make something nice out of it, so that’s something I apply to my design process,” she tells me. Reminiscing on her constant adoration for fashion, her smile reaches her eyes as she mentions the Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2006 runway show that made her realise fashion “was the only option.” From that moment forward, there was nothing else Carvalho could imagine doing.

After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design from Santa Marcelina College in São Paulo, she worked for Calvin Klein, Gareth Pugh, and Mariana Jungmann, the latter two while pursuing a Graduate Diploma in Fashion Design Technology from London College of Fashion. Winning Feel the Contest in 2021 – a competition for emerging designers held at Pitti Immagine Filati in Florence – was the push she needed to dive into the deep end that was starting Raquel de Carvalho. Her current project, a one-of-a-kind capsule collection created from leftover panels of knit collected over the years, not only fortifies this practice but underlines her unwavering commitment to sustainability.

She uses only traceable materials made in Italy (some of which are certified) and works with companies based out of London, Italy, and São Paulo, so she’s able to visit frequently to oversee the production. The majority of her spring/summer 2024 collection is made to order – ensuring minimal product waste – and is currently available to shop at APOC Store, magarchivio, and The Forumist, all of which are online retailers supporting emerging and independent designers. With all this effort being made, Carvalho highlights the issues within the industry, saying, “Young designers and young brands shoulder the responsibility to create a new future while we have big corporations and brands that do almost nothing, and nobody talks about it. The system we are in makes everyone produce without thinking, without questioning. The materials may be sustainable, but people buy all the time, so it’s not actually sustainable. It’s very complicated.” This is part of the reason why she doesn’t design a collection every season; she wants her designs to transcend the limitations of the fashion calendar.

She goes against the status quo in that sense, which translates when you look at her social media presence – or lack thereof. As a small brand, Carvalho understands the expansive reach that Instagram and TikTok have to offer, but she’s more than wary of it. “When I was studying, Instagram wasn’t as big as it is now, so for me to overexpose myself is so weird,” she shares. “I chose to be a fashion designer, I didn’t choose to be an influencer, and I feel like I’m obligated to talk about and show my work – that’s not what I signed up for.” Dressed in a black Adidas crewneck, dark grey jeans, and chunky black ankle boots, it’s clear: she wants the attention only for her designs, not for herself.

The last question I ask is whether she ever stops thinking about fashion. She pauses for quite some time before admitting that she rarely does. Her relationships and spirituality are deeply rooted in her work, and for that reason, she says, “I don’t see myself disconnecting from Raquel the designer, it’s all related,” wrapped up in bewitching and deeply profound designs.

Follow Raquel and her eponymous label via Instagram and purchase her pieces through one of her vendor sites.