Dal Chodha: Most of your life – your creative life – you have been in London and New York. Today you are working inside of a 400-year-old well in the Spanish countryside. You live in the same village as six generations of your family in a house that is 770 years old. How has your perspective changed now that you are based where you are?
Miguel Adrover: I’m really aware of what is going on in the planet but, yes, for a little while I stepped out of it because I found it really overwhelming. A lot of my work is dedicated to this kind of awareness and for a long time, fashion was the only way I could do, or at least say something. Ten years ago we could see the Amazon burning but if you mentioned it, people thought you were crazy. But that is the life of an activist. For many years I was considered toxic… but what I was talking about is being embraced by everyone now.
DC: The appropriation of logos, repurposing deadstock fabrics, re-thinking the two-season norm, questioning corporate power – you did all of this two decades ago with your collections. You’ve said that your studies were much more geopolitical.
MA: Exactly. Now, being here, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the world through a window and not participate in it. I can see it all happening again and young people don’t even know who I am. They think that they’re the first to use fashion in this way.
DC: What you were doing – what you are still doing through your photography and self-portraiture – is so vital, carnal, tribal, powerful. Is that why you were considered toxic?
MA: In the three appointments I had for corporate companies, that’s what I was always told. I was totally freaked out because that was the opposite of what I was doing. I was trying to get people to look up and see how unsustainable everything had become. The industry is still working in the same context. I would love to have a show in New York and express all of the division in the country but these days it’s dangerous because there’s a lot of censorship. Even from young people who can label you as “racist” and “homophobic” because they don't know what you have done before. That happened to me because of something I posted on Instagram, and I was so shocked, like WTF? I buried so many of my best friends when I was 20 years old, they were all dying because of Aids, and here these kids are calling me these awful names. I felt so much freer to say things 30 years ago.
DC: The generational differences are very nuanced and for sure, very complicated. Many young fashion followers share images of your collections – they know of your clothes, but they continually extract them from their contexts. Do you feel protected from some of these cultural shifts because of where you are? It is difficult to maintain a healthy perspective if you are in a city like New York, in the thick of it all.
MA: In truth, I am in total isolation. I don’t have a social life. I don’t even have friends. I opened this window on Instagram two years ago because I was so full of things that I needed to drop. My assistant Constanza had the page already, but I did not do anything with it because I didn’t have a mobile phone – I haven’t had one for 9 years now. I don’t experience the world through a screen on a phone. Going back to your question and how I feel here, people in the countryside are more conservative and it is the women, my mum for example, who run things. They are in control. Seeing all the stories around the #metoo movement made me think about my shows because I always presented women in spaces often only occupied by men. I did sartorial tailoring for spring/summer 2001 and everyone thought they were all lesbians! I cannot be more feminist than what I have been in my work. Throughout my life I have fought for equality; I was in Washington, I got beat up, spat at, insulted. I dropped out of school when I was 12 but ended up in London the early 1980s. I was on the Kings Road, I met Leigh Bowery, I used to go to Taboo with Michael Clark, Blitz. I studied; I was a goth. I grew up in London. The first designers I knew were BodyMap – they were so influential on everything, and no one is talking about them today. There should be a monument to them.
DC: That was a period that was about collaboration: art, music, performance – it was avant-garde. Some people think we are coming back to that.
MA: These days we don’t know what avant-garde is. Back then it was about being a modern person. It was not about selling. I used to come back to Majorca and DJ and in between that, I worked with my mum and dad on collecting almonds on their farm. I’ve always been between worlds.
DC: Now you're between worlds again because you have this Instagram presence, but you don't have a phone. You work methodically on studied self-portraits totally on your own. You express the tensions and joy of the world through a single picture that you share online to thousands of strangers.
MA: I work really hard on those pictures, and they are based on my mood but then I can change mood many times during the day. I can go for weeks without seeing anybody besides my mum and dad because I work underground – when I close that door, the world disappears. It’s only my imagination and my creativity. I have got to find something between walking from home to the well to work with, a piece of plastic I find, or a stone. Anything.
DC: In a lot of your earlier pictures you used mannequins rather than shooting yourself?
MA: Yes, I have about 20 of them and over seven years I have made about 300 pictures with them. I was going through a lot of stuff, I stopped drinking and taking drugs. I realised it was not working for me here in the village, it was okay in New York, it was okay in the middle of the stress of everything, but here it wasn’t great. My two friends were Patrón and Jose Cuervo and they were bad bitches to hang out with. So, I thought, forget it. All that energy I got through alcohol I expressed it through the mannequins. I created these big installations making my own universe, using the things around here, my grandma’s tablecloth, feathers from animals being killed for food, my communion clothes. I am 57 years old, and I have always collected stuff, so I have a lot to work with. The mannequins express a number of emotions that I think we (humans) have lost.
DC: A lot of these tableaus take on the look of classic fashion pictures – they are very theatrical and dramatic in a Steven Meisel kind of way.
MA: When I was with Lee McQueen, I had the opportunity to work with Katy England on styling with a lot of photographers like Meisel, Steven Klein and Richard Avedon. Now I don't have any assistants, and I don’t spend any money. Even on lighting because the only thing I have in the well is this little window – that’s the only light I use. It is a light that is invited into darkness. The pictures have this feeling of 18th century paintings because the light comes from the top and I am at the bottom of the frame. The self-portraits happen because I never go out. I used to be a New Romantic and, in those days, it was more exciting to dress up in your room with your friends than it was to actually go out! This energy I have inside me has to come out and it does in these pictures. When I am homesick for New York, and London I dress up like a New Romantic. I’m not dressing up for anyone but myself.
DC: What's your intention with your self-portraits? Why are you sharing them with us?
MA: That's a very good question because I'm giving it away for free. Miguel Adrover is not about selling product – this is a campaign for myself that I don’t get anything out of. It poses questions, which is more powerful than selling something because it is true. I’m connected to actuality – to what happens today. I'm not inspired by old Hollywood movies, I’m inspired by what's going on in Somalia, or Sudan or London. That’s why I don’t really understand these old houses like Balenciaga making what they do today. We have this big corporate monopoly controlling the industry that is brainwashing young minds. We're not progressing. Fashion – if we want to take it to another level – needs to take that risk of letting things die because new blood is there, waiting.
DC: Did you work with stylists when you were in New York?
MA: I worked with Eric Daman who had a fantastic American knowledge of style – and that was important for me. I was really clear with what I wanted but I knew I was in safe hands. The energy at my shows was so crazy – I remember before they would start there would be around 500 people chanting backstage – the camaraderie was so intense. And the models were all representing something bigger than themselves, they’d come from Sudan for castings for Tommy or Ralph and then wouldn’t get booked, but we’d use them. It was inclusive and representation was important. Back then designers would use only one or two black girls in a show to be politically correct, but we didn’t think like that. I really felt like the king of the underdogs.
DC: Do you still feel like an underdog?
MA: I do, but also a lot of the people now working as I was are my babies. And they should know who their mother is. It’s important that we know history – I’m not into removing things, we cannot sanitise the planet and our culture. I believe we need to confront and somehow live with what we don't like. It’s dangerous when you want to eliminate everything because then it is too easy to forget what you are fighting for. I’m part of a past. New generations need to be aware that somebody was already fighting for things, and they never did it for money. The last time I sold a collection was probably when I was creative director at Hessnatur around 2008. I remember Vogue writing at the time of my appointment that it was like hiring Amy Winehouse as lead in a church choir.
DC: I’m interested in what you said about “removing” yourself. After your last show in New York in 2012, did you consciously feel like you had taken yourself out of fashion or was it just a consequence of your beliefs?
MA: I invested everything in fashion and I never got anything back. That show, which was called Out of My Mind, wasn’t done for sales. It was the first show I did after stopping in 2004. I made the clothes out of garments I had collected from wealthy women in Palma. I’d meet them at their houses and sit in a cupboard and ask them to put all the garments that they liked on a rack. I made new clothes from their existing wardrobes. It wasn’t recycling; it was much more than that. I’m always interested in the soul inside the clothes. I haven’t been selling anything for a long time but this kind of detachment from the fashion industry happened naturally. I was really tired of having a team, of my own dependence on them and my accountability for their salaries. A lot of young people want to have a career in fashion, but it is not the same as when I used to go to London and help Lee. I used to be there for a month sleeping under the cutting tables, or a lot of the time being sent to his house to make sure he’d be okay to come into the studio the next day.
DC: Did you know what you were going to do when you moved back to Majorca?
MA: I had no idea. I had this little €200 camera so then photography happened. One day when I went down into the well, the damp and dark atmosphere felt right to me because it seemed as if we were all sleepwalking into chaos with the climate crisis. And then when I came off the drugs and alcohol, I invested energy into me. My first series was with the mannequins – I dressed three of them up in my collections and did their hair and make-up and put them in my car. I drove around the village, up into the mountains, the hills, inside a castle, into a monastery – people thought I was going crazy! It looked like I was sat next to Anna Wintour in the front seat of my car. From then I started to see myself more and things became lighter, I started working inside the well with this small window of light and I felt so happy – I felt that I could finally express myself without needing anyone else. I had no deadlines, I did it because it was a necessity for me. I have no show coming up, but I run around like I do all of the time.
DC: Do you have everything in your archive? Is it well organised?
MA: The archive is always moving because it’s not like an archive. It’s my wardrobe. I have everything! Some people stole a few things, but I have the Yankees baseball caps sweatshirts, the United Nations shawl, the Burberry raincoat. I reproduced some of them for my self-portraits too. If I know that I am doing a picture tomorrow, I need to prepare. I have a problem with shoes because I am size 47 and my shoes only go up to 41 so I need to customize them with elastic. Everyday my pictures are getting better and better and when I look at ones, I have done earlier I want to re-do them. I will never let anything go with my name on it if I am not totally pleased with it. My body, my soul and my suffering are inside everything I do. I am very tragic, very Spanish in that way.
DC: If you liked Miguel Adrover the designer, you will like Miguel Adrover today because now, what you’re doing seems even more pure.
MA: I have become good at knowing how I look inside the camera – you cannot jump into a picture with the clothes, there is a mediation before on who I am or what I am doing, or what I have inside me. It’s not just dressing up. I like to see my clothes in a new environment that isn’t a big city. A lot of them have been inspired by the Mediterranean, where I am from, so they make a lot of sense here but, at some point, the clothes are the least important thing. It’s about how you feel the clothes. A style comes after many years of being around, of understanding and getting into trouble with clothing.