The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The design powerhouse

Andre Estefan’s vision is a hub of creative expression for up and coming Sri Lankan designers to construct and showcase their work

Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Versace and Gucci; some of the world’s top labels might not have their namesakes at the helm anymore, but they continue to rule the fashion industry. Fashion powerhouses have long been synonymous with cutting edge trend-setting and more importantly, a host of talented designers.

This is Andre Estefan’s vision. The celebrity Sri Lankan designer is looking to revolutionise the industry with the launch of his Design Caf� at Braybrooke Street this week. An idea conceptualized almost a decade ago but kept from being a reality due to the situation in the country at the time, he’s finally got the chance to realize his dream to take Sri Lankan designers to another level.

Fully focussed: Viran, Tymerone and Andre. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte

Walk into the studio cum runway cum workspace and you’re thrust into the world of fashion. The large space’s most dominant feature is a runway right in the middle- up and coming fashion designers will showcase their work there every six to eight weeks to an invitees-only audience made up largely of serious buyers. The weeks leading up to the grand finale of a show will be spent in this room itself, working on the former runway that is now converted into a long table on which the designers sketch, hem and create.

“The runway is the entire focus of this place,” Andre gestures at his young prot�g�es bent over their work. “It’s a fully functional workspace. Everything is done centred around the platform, and it’s a great reminder for the designers that they’re creating for an audience and not just for themselves.”

What the Design Caf� hopes to do is create an umbrella of designers . They will be nurtured and provided the logistical means to get their work out to the public, which Andre says has not really been done in the country before. He is quick to point out that the Design Caf� is not just limited to fashion, but rather to every artistic form of creative expression. From art to interior design to graphics, they hope to epitomize every form of design through the outlet.

It is a concept that Andre is confident will change our perception of design, mainly that of being fashion-centric. “Sri Lanka’s garment industry has been running strong for about 60-70 years now. In terms of quality, we’re very much at the helm,” he says, a touch of pride in his voice. “The problem is that no one’s had the foresight to nurture the creative aspect of the fashion industry-we’ve been very much focused on selling. I think that when we lost the global quota it was a game changer. The time has come to expose Sri Lanka’s mind and creativity as opposed to brawn.”
The fashion powerhouse concept is backed by a firm belief that designers should be focused on creativity and business must be handled for them, not by them. The Design Caf� will always be on the lookout for young designers with potential who can be guided and nurtured.

“I understand the financial difficulties of going out on your own. This is exactly why this place is here. Believe me, it’s not a charity. It’s merely a place where you’re given an outlet to create and showcase your work,” Andre says. His enthusiasm is infectious. Design is a craft for him, and his evident desire to help aspiring young designers to find their niche markets is more than obvious in the passion with which he speaks of his project.

Designers need look no further than the caf� itself for creative inspiration. The workspace is dotted with posters, handy art material, even the washrooms are haute couture! Tongue-in-cheek washroom code names are Vivienne Westwood for the ladies and Alexander McQueen for the guys.

The launch show on Saturday saw two young designers and Andre himself in the spotlight: Tymerone Carvalho’s Menjoy, Andre’s line Runway BCH and Missi Island, by Viran Jay Peter, all lit up the ramp.

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