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Manuel Albarran dishes up fantasy looks for Michelin dinner in Macau

Spanish designer Manuel Albarran has designed pieces for celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and recently embarked on a collaboration with Robert Parker Wine Advocate and Michelin for their debut gala dinner in Macau.

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Along with six Michelin-starred chefs including Tam Kwok-fung (Jade Dragon at Macau’s City of Dreams) and Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation in Hong Kong), Albarran organised a five-part show that was part fantasy, part theatre. The spectacle was about exploring the senses.

“We had to tackle every sense, and use every medium to its full potential. We used a large video screen which played a film produced by my team in Spain. For sound, we had a soloist play the saxophone,” he says.

Looks ranged from ostentatious feather hats to futuristic metal bustiers, and elaborate metal armour. Unconventional materials and colours are a signature style in Albarran’s work.

“My work comes from another world. I’m not interested in creating commercial work,” he says. “When I left fashion school, I tried to go down the conventional route and produce safer work. But after 10 years, I wasn’t selling anything.

“Then, later on I noticed that the fashion that I had created 10 years before had become fashionable. For example in the 1990s, when I was creating very tight T-shirts, people were confused by them. But 10 years later, people started wearing them. So I realised that I was a visionary, and that I was doing things that people would like for a long time.”

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Albarran’s ability to work across various mediums helps his desire to create work that feels fresh. With 25 years of experience he is comfortable working with different mediums, such as metal, corsetry and leather. And while his work is fantastical, he appreciates technical mastery and engineering.

“When you want to create something new, when you want to use other materials that people don’t normally use, you have to experiment. Even now when I have my team, I’m still coordinating everything. When you mix leather, plastic, metal, there are technical aspects you have to consider. You also have to know how to sort out your problems. Sometimes you have to find the solution very quickly, because you have deadlines,” he says.

It’s these qualities that made Albarran an ideal candidate for the film Maleficent, where he was in charge of creating accessories. Collaborating with two other designers, they formed the costume designs that brought the film to life.

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“Creatively, coming up with concepts was easy. It’s very much in line with how I normally work. And the diversity of materials we used was huge, including metal, bones, leather and feathers, all of which added to the complexity of each creation,” he says.

“It was a great experience but difficult under pressure. And it wasn’t just about creating really amazing pieces – the actors and actresses had to run and fly in them, so if anything went wrong during filming we had to quickly fix the problem.”

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One highlight was the strong professional relationship he forged with the film’s main protagonist Angelina Jolie. Unlike other celebrities collaborations where Albarran would most often work with a third party stylist, the designer worked closely with the actress over three months.

These projects and many others illustrate how much of a niche Albarran has built for himself. With so many accolades under his belt and his dogged determination, it’s hard to believe that there were people who doubted him.

“I never had doubts about myself. Even at the beginning, all my family said that I was crazy. But I was sure about myself, I was sure I would succeed. I knew what was going to happen.”