Lisbon’s hidden indie design gems


I’m often asked how I find all the designers and products for Paloni. The answer is: I’m trying to look from places that are not the most probable ones, and thus to find the hidden talents that are not the most probable choices. It is never-ending detective work.

So, I have just arrived home from Lisbon. I figured that there’s such heritage of both textile industry and ceramics in the country that there must be young people doing interesting things there even if they seemed hard to find through the internet. And there was. But they were as hard to find from the historical maze of the city.

Lisbon is a contradictory place. Based on the street art that surrounds you everywhere you go, you could expect a booming and living culture led by the young. But the high street locations are all reserved for international brands, tacky souvenir shops and countless cafes and tiny restaurants offering custard tarts and grilled sardines. For finding those interesting people molding the new Lisbon, you really need to go through some trouble and climb a stair or a hundred. But luckily I had some patience and a pair of good shoes.

Even my Lonely Planet was totally unaware that there’s an island of small indie boutiques right in the middle of the Campo de Santa Clara flee market area in the Alfama district, but since the biggest flee market of the city is something I don’t dream of missing, I was also able to find these tiny lovelies. After going through all the boutiques and asking the personnel many stupid questions I congratulated myself for finding two interesting shops and designers.

My Crafty Closet is a colorful little shop led by the designer Isabel Tomas who also runs her own brand Amores de to’quio of playful fashion and accessories for both adults and children. The shop also carries a selection of hand-picked vintage finds. Right next to it, there was a peacefully decorated ceramics shop called Amasso. Even though I highly appreciate the Portuguese ceramic tile tradition, I was very happy to finally see something fresh and different made with this material. The ceramic designer Sara Guerreiro was sitting behind the counter. Her discreet and delicate style makes you want to sense the items both with your eyes and your hands.

Amasso in Lisbon

Left: Sara Guerreiro's delicate porcelain dishes.
Right: the Amasso shop right in the middle of the Campo de Santa Clara flee market area.

When walking on Alfama’s narrow streets, I also found another nice place that was not mentioned in our guide books: Atelier Porta 16. It’s a tiny shop selling products from five craftswomen / artists. The original artwork, toy muffins, ceramic earrings, unique obi belts and hand-painted furniture are all spreading good moods with their bright and happy colors and patterns.

Atelier Porta 16 

All in all, I found the Alfama district my favorite one in Lisbon. Its narrow, asymmetrically running streets, red-roofed old buildings and small shops and restaurants run by the locals give it a genuinely inimitable atmosphere. And the moment I really started to feel like at home there was when the lady of the nearest cafe (who didn’t speak one word of English) started preparing my coffee the moment she first saw me in the morning, without me having to say anything.

Although the Chiado district was advertised to us as the most interesting design area, it didn’t have so much to offer to someone who was looking for the still upcoming, emerging and new talents who were producing locally – with one huge exception! Visiting the atelier of Storytailors and getting to meet the designers Luís Sanches and João Branco was one of the highlights of my trip. They design exceptional atelier clothing and a ready-to-wear collection called Narkë – both realized with original ideas and the most careful attention to detail, and everything is being done in their own atelier right next to their concept store.


Left: the detailing, materials, forms and textures of the Storytailors' atelier clothing speak for themselves. 
Right: the designers Luís Sanches and João Branco in their Storytailors concept store.

I was totally taken away with the creations of these two guys. When you see many designers and browse through many stores, you also start to recognize and appreciate the ones that have some ideas of their own and such carefully finished detailing as the garments of these designers. It was easy to believe the guys when they told: “We don’t follow trends, we make our own”. Also, very importantly, this label is still run by the designers and not an international multi-brand mass company, so we can expect the style of Storytailors to remain original and the realization to remain exceptional in its quality.

There was also one thing that caught my attention in the Storytailors concept store: even though the designers prepare new collections, also the previous collections are available in the store. There’s good reasoning behind it: “We don’t kill collections, our customers still want them”. I couldn’t agree more that one characteristic of good clothing design is that it lasts and stays current for more than one season, and for the same reasons, some of our Finnish fashion designers are making classic collections that last for more than one season, like Linda Sipilä and Vietto, while some still offer their old collections while also making new ones, like Antti Asplund.

After a week of sunshine and interesting encounters in Lisbon, I’m still pondering: is Finland ready for the imaginative and distinctive style of Storytailors?

Minna / Paloni