Multifaceted Madrilena: An Interview with Designer Brianda Fitz-James Stuart

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Illustrator, fashion designer, DJ. Aristocrat, influencer. The question for Brianda Fitz-James Stuart, granddaughter of the 18th Duchess of Alba, isn’t what have you done, it’s what haven’t you done. This young, savvy Madrileña has worked with brands as diverse as Samsung, Swatch, Vans and Bulgari. She’s walked the catwalk and been the face of Sony. But she remains down-to-earth with a palpable energy and enthusiasm for her work, for life and for her equally multifaceted home city of Madrid. We recently spoke with her about all three passions.

Your grandmother was born in what is now InterContinental Madrid when it was a palace in the 19th century. What can you tell us about her?

My grandma was, above all, a free person, very strong and with a big personality. She was a woman ahead of her time, very modern. She loved art, animals, dancing flamenco…she had an amazing energy! She never stopped. I can understand how she was so loved by everyone.

How did you start your career journey?

I was always very clear about how I would dedicate my life to something artistic, though I didn’t know exactly in which discipline. I finally leaned towards fashion design and studied at Instituto Europeo di Design [The European Institute of Design] in Madrid. Afterwards I went to New York City to complete my studies; I worked under the painter Paul Balmer and studied drawing at The Art Student League for a year.

When I returned to Spain I began to work on the creative team of La Casita de Wendy for eight years. There I learned how to set up my own fashion brand on which I worked for a time. It was a very rewarding experience; it was my opportunity to realise that my real calling was to be an illustrator. Now I specialise in what I love the most: I can design any kind of piece, from a Swatch watch to wallpaper to ceramics and carpets. I illustrate books…I find every canvas is interesting for me to work on.

Brianda Fitz-James Stuart log ladyYou’re an illustrator, a pattern maker, a DJ. When someone asks you to describe your career, what do you say?

I say I’m a designer and illustrator and that music is a hobby that I had the enormous luck to make part of my job too. I love to be able to work on different things.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a collection of Washi tape for the Ellipse Tokyo store in Japan where I had an exhibition last Christmas. I’m about to release two books of illustrations, if everything goes okay, in September. This makes me especially happy because they are my first books. I’m also working with Coordonné on a wallpaper design and I’m making a mural in a couple of weeks for the Festival de les Arts of Valencia.

Brianda Fitz-James Stuart crocodileHow would you describe Madrid to someone visiting for the first time?

Madrid is a happy city, filled with social life; it is luminous. And the good thing is that you are just a 40-minute car ride away from amazing places like La Cabrera where I go every week to enjoy nature.

How do you see yourself in the city?

I’ve always liked Madrid and I think she likes me back. She makes me feel good and I hope to be able to live here forever. But with some country escapades on the side.

What is happening in Madrid now that people should know about?

Madrid is in a really good place right now, there’s a very healthy artistic life. Every day the city is opening new amazing places to eat, to dance… It’s an open city whose main characteristic has always been how fun and welcoming it is. There’s always a plan, an expo, an event, a party.

It has lots of light and good vibes, and as soon as the weather gets mild, everybody practically lives on the streets. A lot of people from other countries come to live to Madrid because we live well here.

Where are Madrid’s current fashion hot spots?

The Malasaña and Chueca quarters are a safe bet. We have a fair share of amazing designers living here: Sybilla, La Casita de Wendy, Juan Duyos, Moises Nieto, Herida de Gato, PeSeta, Pepa Salazar, Mané Mané, Outsiders Division, Leandro Cano…

Which galleries should we be visiting in Madrid right now?

Échale Guindas at Pelayo Street is a gallery specialising in illustrators that I highly recommend. I’ve had exhibitions there. Espacio Valverde at Valverde Street always has very interesting proposals of new artists that you can’t miss. Travesía 4 is also specialising in new artists and very interesting. Galería Elvira Gonzalez or the Marlborough, a staple, are always a good idea.

Where do you DJ?

I usually have my sets at events or private parties. But my favourite places to dance are Café de Berlín and El Amante. To have the first drink of the evening, I like Bar Corazón and Lucy in the Sky.

You’ve done illustration and pattern-making work for some amazing clothing brands. Who are the local brands we should keeping our eyes on and where can we find them?

At Callejón de Jorge Juan you can find the marvelous IOU Story Store, Cortana and Pedro García! PeSeta has a store on San Vicente Ferrer 8 and another on Huertas 37. You can find Sybilla at Travesía de Belén 2, and Juanjo Oliva on Justiniano 14.

If you made a pattern representing Madrid, what would it look like?

I would paint La Cibeles, Goya’s The Nude Maja, our symbolic Bear and Madrone tree, our classic dish, Cocido Madrileño, the historic dress of Madrid – the “Chulapo suit” – and of course, cats, since the people whose families go back three generations in Madrid are called cats or “Gatos”. It would be a party of colours and shapes!

What does a perfect day in Madrid look like for you?

The perfect plan for me is going to see an exhibition on classic art. I’m always amazed by the never-ending artistic offer of the city. Then I’ll take a walk in the Retiro Park. To be perfect it has to be on a weekday, on weekends it is completely full of people!

Where do you go in Madrid to get inspired?

I go to museums: El Prado, the Thyssen, the Juan March Foundation, El Reina Sofía, the Museo Cerralbo, Mapfre Foundation; to the Fashion Museum (El Museo del Traje), the Royal Botanic Garden… There are a lot of places from where to take inspiration!

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