“I was completely hooked, my life was changed and it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career as a milliner”.
Rafael Peinador is a designer currently living in London who creates unique and eye-catching hats and accessories. These beautiful creations are truly works of art and we had the privilege to speak with him about his design process. Rafael, who goes by Rafa, spoke to us about what inspired his collections and what his plans are for the future.
EotB: Please tell us your story and how you began designing such beautiful accessories?
RP: I went to university to study advertising and marketing, worked for more than ten years in advertising. I became interested in jewelry making with unusual materials like paper, fabric, ribbons… and for a couple of years, I taught jewelry design and making in an arts college. The big move happened when I landed in London with my partner, a few years of office work awoke my creativity again and after we adopted our children I decided to stay at home to support them. Starting my own business, allowed me to dedicate time to my children and to create bespoke and unique brooches and jewelry. As I mentioned before I’m very interested in the use of fabric as the main element for making jewelry and all fabric manipulation techniques. In one of my researches, I found an old pleating technique to create ribbon rosettes, and the first brooches were born. Over the years I have modified the way I make them and I have used many different decorations and central elements.
The hats arrived a couple of years later when my friend Rosalind asked me if I wanted to do a millinery course at Morley College with her before she and her family moved back to Australia and my journey throughout millinery started. After a few weeks I was completely hooked, my life was changed and it was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career as a milliner. The freedom, creativity, craftsmanship, and also the possibility to apply all my design background and my previous knowledge about materials has made my journey an amazing adventure.
EotB: What was your first design?
RP: A brooch, very simple, the ribbon was ivory and it had different decorations, all including the hexagonal central piece, were white sponge coral. I clearly remember taking the photo on top of the reception table and adding it as my first product on my Etsy shop.
Funnily enough and after nearly 4 years of selling brooches to many countries, that brooch has never been sold. I took it off my shop a couple of weeks ago, firstly because I have decided not to use coral if it’s not responsibly sourced and secondly because I have always secretly wished nobody would buy it so I could keep it for my personal collection.
Also, being the first one there was a freedom and a lack of technique on the pleating, that I have always found very charming and unique. I have done similar ones afterward, but none of them had the same soul, because once you master the technique the pieces become more perfect and less spontaneous. Maybe is a personal appreciation or maybe it is the sentimental fact that it was the first one.
My first hat was an orange felt cloche with green Petersham. The piece was inspired by the WW1 German infantry helmet, Pickelhaube, and the Pith helmet. Both have very seductive shapes and are linked to historical events and places, making the research more exiting. I have also kept this piece even if I have been asked a couple of times to reproduce it in different colors.
EotB: We love your deep-sea collection and the fact that your brand is environmentally conscious by using local suppliers and recycled boxes for shipping. Did this play a part in inspiring the deep-sea collection?
RP: Since I started with the brooches I have always tried to be as environmentally conscious as possible, my ribbons are from a UK supplier, gemstones are mainly from the UK also and responsibly sourced, my boxes are made with recycled materials and I tried to use as little plastic as possible, even if I love it. Last year I did an HNC in millinery at the Kensington and Chelsea College and for one of my assignments, I choose the sea contamination as a theme. I love the sea and the sea contamination worries me intensely. The piece was a representation of a sea creature slowly polluted and contaminated by a black substance. Inside the sea creature, I created a coral reef made entirely with black straws, one of the biggest problems, when we are talking about the sea and animal contamination by plastic.
Not satisfied with this assignment, I decided to dedicate my final collection to the sea with a less catastrophic view. Never the less I did extensive research and most of the plastic I used was biodegradable polymers. I have a deep connection with water and its creatures. A connection that probably is the result of my happiest childhood memories, the summer holidays with my family by the sea in the north of Spain. Later on, swimming and diving have made this connection stronger.
It was based on all the sea creatures and I was also interested in developing two other aspects. The light and the colors under the sea and the floating effect and the movement produced by currents and tides. The floating effect is fundamental to create movement and the underwater sensation, and is particularly clear in pieces like the “coral reef” mask, the “sea farmer” and “the froth”. In other pieces like “sea tentacles” or “jellyfish”, the effect is produced by the movement of the pieces themselves.
Without light there is no color, the deeper you dive the darker everything becomes around you. The first colors to disappear are reds and yellows, slowly all colors become green and blue until everything is black. When you are deep enough the only way to see colors is to bring some kind of artificial light, like a torch. To reinforce the shapes and the movement this whole collection was white. I chose red as a secondary color because it is one of the first colors to disappear with the absence of light, and I added little details in every hat with UV paint that can only be revealed under a special light, just like the color under the sea.
EotB: What types of materials do you use when creating your products and why have you chosen them?
RP: The materials are a big thing for me, a big part of the creative process. I love to research, learn and use new and old materials, to burn them, to pleat, to bleach them, to play with them, and find new ways to use them. “Materials are possibilities in the hands of a creative person”. I have kept designs for years because I didn’t have the material or a technique good enough to materialize them. Some materials are chosen because of the strength or lightness, some materials are used because of the finished look I want to achieve. And it is crucial to choose correctly if you want your piece to be perfect.
There are a lot of new and exciting biomaterials, eco-friendly materials, vegan fabrics, and leathers and I think, even if some of them need more work and development, we will find in the near future a new range of very interesting products. I love natural straws, fabrics, plastics, and in general new materials that I can experiment with.
EotB: Does your brand have a signature style and if so how would you describe it?
RP: I’m not sure I have a signature style, I think I’m still finding myself as a designer, growing creatively and finding my public. I’m also not sure that I want to be tagged, branded, or classified with one style only because it doesn’t define the way I feel.
Some of my pieces are very romantic, some of them are very conceptual and modern. And I think that the way my designs grow in my head if I’m designing a commercial collection my creativity goes automatically to the more romantic direction and when I’m creating for me or for other designers the designs are more wild and unpredictable.
It is a blessing to be able to wake up one day and find yourself making fabric flowers and the next day trying to bend and free shape a plastic form. For me it’s very important to change and to keep my work exciting and attractive, I wouldn’t like to arrive at a point when you find your creative work boring.
EotB: Who do you imagine wearing your accessories when you design them?
RP: I honestly don’t think too much about it when I’m creating. For me my brooches are genderless, they look amazing on men, they look amazing on women, they look amazing on everybody. It’s more about the attitude, the confidence and the way to wear them. I imagine unique people wearing them, with personality and with something to say and to express through the way they dress and the accessories they choose. The hats are slightly different because up to now my collections have been designed mainly for women, but the principle is the same. I like when people choose to wear one of my hats because it helps them transmit or express something, regardless of age, gender, or style.
I like to be surprised when someone used my pieces in a different way. I remember a couple of years ago a stylist, who I work a lot with, used my brooches as a buckle and also as a tie, amazing. I think these are some of the reasons because I love to do bespoke orders for my clients when you design for someone your creativity has to bend and accommodate the clients’ expectations, the taste, and way they have to express themselves.
EotB: Which design is a favorite for you and why?
RP: Difficult question, you cannot ask a parent to choose a child. Also difficult because once I finished a hat I can see all the imperfections and I can think about a million ways to make it better. One of my teachers used to say, the third time you make the same hat it’s when it will be the best. But if I have to chose I will probably choose the ‘Jellyfish’ or the ‘Ocean Froth’ both from my ‘Deep-Sea’ collection. There is so much of myself, so many feelings, the whole collection is very personal and specifically those two hats because of the movement they have, because they are white and it makes you focus your attention on the shapes rather than getting distracted by the colors.
Both of them were first ideas, the first image arriving to my mind captured in a quick sketch and developed later after several trials with different materials. Both designs remained pure, unchanged. For the ‘Jellyfish’, I created a completely different crown, and two days before the exhibition I decided to come back to the original design.
EotB: Please explain the artistic process of creating one of your designs from start to finish.
RP: It always starts with an image in my mind, I do have a lot every day, but the special ones, the good ones have the ability to linger around. From there I will make a quick sketch on any kind of paper or surface available at the time, and later on a more detailed drawing with maybe colors and specifications. I have to say colors don’t bother me too much when I’m creating and it’s something secondary in my process. At this point, some designs will be archived for the future as an individual design or allocated to a collection. I normally have three or four unfinished collections on my head and allocate some of these new designs which I think could go well with them.
After sketching and drawing I will start making prototypes and experimenting with the materials. It’s a very enjoyable part of the creative process because when you are experimenting with materials you are feeding your own creativity and new ideas normally emerge.
Some times I will come back to my sketching and modify my original idea to adapt it to the results of the experimentation, otherwise, I will make the final hat. Some of my prototypes are good enough to be the final hat but I rather keep the trial for future reference. Sometimes they will become the final piece because I like the natural way they have developed during the experimentation time and I don’t want to force a copy.
EotB: What are the future plans for the Rafa Peinador brand?
RP: I would definitely like to establish and consolidate my brand within the millinery and fashion world and start collaborating more with fashion designers and with special editorial projects. There are a couple of initiatives that bring awareness to the environmental problems that I’m planning to get involved with. And a project about collecting used straws from local bars and restaurants and make beautiful hats and jewelry with them. The final pieces will be exhibited in collaboration with a charity to raise money and awareness. These kinds of initiatives are very important to me, something I would like my brand and my pieces to be linked with.
We are trying very hard, to get our commercial collection in more selling points, in different countries, and in the right spaces. Probably this season will be lost because of the lockdown. But I’m positive that something good will come from this and the fashion world will thrive again. I would like my brand to be a reference, a trustworthy brand with quality and quirky designs without forgetting the human side behind and the world we live in.
To purchase items from Rafa you can visit his website for more information and view his collections. He also has items available on Instagram and don’t forget to check out his men’s collection here. For even more items created by Rafa visit his Etsy shop. Rafael is also available for bespoke creations and can be reached through Instagram or through email at email@example.com.