Clothes are accessories to shoes
Fashion has always been an artful expression of oneself, a canvas where personality and style come to life, and even a diary of childhood memories and infatuations can emerge. During my conversation with Abra, the talented designer behind his eponymous brand, ABRA, it became apparent how this biographical aspect of clothing has shaped his journey. Born on the picturesque shores of Spain, Abra’s path has taken him on a global adventure, and in speaking with him for Glamcult from his base in Paris, we explore this journey from humble beginnings to haute couture dreams. Abra’s fashion odyssey is a captivating tale of sartorial inspiration and boundless creativity, one filled with twists, turns and an array of pivotal moments.
Born as Abraham Ortuño in 1987 in Alicante, a village dominated by the shoe industry, Abra’s fascination with fashion started at a young age. Irresistibly drawn to the discarded shoes and accessories that lined the factories of his town, he would often play with them, sparking a passion that would shape his future.“ At first, I wanted to work in animation because I was obsessed with Japanese anime, so I was drawing nonstop,” Abra recalls. As he grew older, he realised that this path did not encompass the career he wanted. So when he moved to Barcelona at the age of 17 and got the opportunity to work as an assistant to Elena Cardona, the accessory designer for Maison Margiela, it marked the beginning of his story into the world of fashion.
“After three years, Elena told me to come to Paris because there was an amazing master’s program there at EFM, and I applied without having any fashion school background,” Abra shares. Despite lacking a previous ‘formal’ education in fashion, Abra’s passion and talent were recognition enough, and he was accepted into the program, opening up incredible opportunities, including the chance to work with Jacquemus, the renowned French fashion brand, in developing shoes and bags.“This was my real beginning as a designer because it was me by myself helping someone younger. It was also my first time working on shoes. That first shoe I did was the Les mules rond carré, from Jacquemus. From there, it was an amazing journey because once Jacquemus made it, everyone knew who I was,” Abra reflects on this pivotal moment in his career.
Abra’s talent and unique perspective soon caught the attention of other major fashion houses, and he has subsequently worked with Givenchy, Kenzo, and Paco Rabanne over the years. However, though somewhat hesitant to admit it, he felt the challenges of working for others, as the creative freedom and expression he craved were limited within those roles. It was then he realised that it was time to start his own line and share his vision with the world. “I started with shoes because that’s what I had been doing for the last five years. My idea was shoes for everyone, going from size 36 to size 44—no matter the design, or style. It was quite new because nobody was offering these big sizes for everyone” Abra explains. He wanted to create inclusive footwear that catered to individuals with larger shoe sizes, including Queer and trans individuals, as well as tall women who often faced challenges finding stylish and well-fitting footwear.
The launch of Abra’s shoe line initially received positive feedback from the press, but sales were slow. Undeterred, Abra decided to open a website that allowed customers to pre-order shoes in their size, taking a personalised approach to catering to diverse sizes and styles. This approach soon gained popularity, and Abra’s designs before he knew it were in high demand.
Abra’s journey as a designer never forgot his animation- inspired roots, as today his design aesthetic continues to be deeply inspired by his love for Japanese anime and his fascination with the Barbie pink aesthetic that reigned over the 90s and 00s. “I’ve always had this girly, poppy pink style in my mind,” Abra shared enthusiastically. “Back then, there wasn’t a lot of pink stuff around, and I was obsessed with Miu Miu, but they had a more classic and sassy vibe with feathers and all. I wanted something more plastic, more artificial, more toy-like. So after the shoes, I started creating these little pink bags with spikes, and to my delight, people loved them. It was a dream come true to see something I had wanted to do for so long working.”
Abra credits his early love for Japanese anime to his father, who he professes as an animation geek. “As kids, my sister and I grew up with a dad who was obsessed with animation,” Abra recalls. “We would watch the movies he was watching in the living room; they were these animated films with mind-blowing techniques. They were often about giant robots or girls with massive boobs, and as a kid, it made a huge impact on me. I fell in love with anime.” As he grew older, Abra continued to explore the world of anime and developed a deep appreciation for its artistry and storytelling. “I started trying to find and watch as many shows as I could”. “Anime was also a big trend in Spain at that time, and it was everywhere on TV. Shows like Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Slayers, and all of these Japanese animations were being aired. So I guess in the end, whatever I do now is all influenced by what I loved as a kid.”
When asked about his current favourite anime, Abra responded with little-to-no hesitation, Dragon Maid a heartwarming story of unexpected love. “Most anime tend to be sad stories, but this one is about a dragon who becomes a woman and falls in love with a maid. It’s incredibly cute! Although my forever favourite anime would have to be Evangelion. I’m completely covered in Evangelion tattoos. It’s so inspiring. For everyone in my generation, this kind of futurism was the most exciting thing. It sparked our imagination about what the future could hold, like flying or wearing these amazing armour suits. But I also love the girly side, the melancholic love stories and all the emotional depth.”
Though open about his passion for anime and fantasy, when asked about the creative process for his latest spring-summer ‘23 collection, Abra revealed that he prefers not to explicitly name his inspirations anymore, (and I get it)! Decidedly sharing his intention to leave room for interpretation and inspiration, allowing his designs to speak for themselves. “In today’s fast-paced world, whatever you do, there will always be twenty people following, making similar things but cheaper and faster,” Abra explained. “So I prefer to protect my inspiration and share less about it. In interviews, I always mention that my brand is a reflection of myself and my life. But I know that young people love to look up references and imitate them.”
However, Abra did open up about one deep influence; his love for Barbie dolls and their presence in his collections. He reminisced about finding pictures of his favourite Barbie, called Barbie Hollywood, from the 90s when he was a kid. “I was obsessed with Barbie Hollywood,” Abra declares. “So I named some of the dresses in my collection after it because it truly inspired me.” As a child, Abra’s memories of playing with Barbies and his sister’s “tomboyish” influence still hold a special place in his heart. “The collection represents a part of me, how I interacted with dolls as a kid”, Abra explained.
Abra’s fashion aesthetic is a unique blend of hypermasculine and hyperfeminine elements, which he confirms to attribute to the contrasting styles of both himself and his sister. “My sister was such a tomboy as a kid, playing football and all. Meanwhile, I was always in pastel-coloured clothing, playing with my dolls,” Abra shared. “But at some point, our styles collided and we became similar in a way. It’s what the collection embodies.” Abra’s sister is now an integral part of his company, handling logistics and product development. Their bond is evident in their creative process, and Abra describes her as now living her dream life with a chuckle. “Now she works for me, and we have so much fun together. We laugh a lot. Sometimes we still look at her old clothes and it continues to inspire me,” Abra beams.
Despite basing his designs on his personal and family history, Abra doesn’t feel vulnerable about sharing his creations with the world and is handsomely candid about it. Growing up in a family that ran a restaurant, he explains this transparency through a childhood surrounded by people. “I have had such a beautiful life and such a happy family. It was always so nice when we were at the restaurant, and there would be people coming nonstop every day,” Abra shares. “So I’m very open. It was very hard during COVID when my family had to close the restaurant, they got so depressed about not having people around all the time. And now that we’ve opened it again, it feels like we are coming back to life. People need people. At least, we do. We need people around us to be the best version of ourselves,” he says.
As our conversation continues, Abra expresses his joy and amazement at seeing people on the streets wearing his designs, particularly the iconic kitten heels—now dubbed, Lord of the Kitten Heel—that have become a symbol of his brand. “Honestly, every time I see someone in the street wearing them, I stop them and say, ‘Oh my God, can I take a picture of you.’ It makes me so happy to see someone I’ve never met before wearing my shoes, especially if they’re guys wearing kitten heels. It’s so cute, and it brings back memories. And it’s not just the shoes, but also our Spike Baguette Bag, which is doing the best right now. I see them everywhere. It was such a random idea that I had four years ago, and now it’s become such a statement bag. It feels surreal,” he exclaims with glee. Abra’s passion for his designs and the joy he finds in seeing others wear them are evident. His unique blend of boyish charm and sleek style has made him a force to be reckoned with in the fashion world, and he continues to create designs that represent his signature identity. Although he affirms, at the end of the day, “the clothes are the accessories to the shoes”.
As someone who didn’t follow the traditional path of fashion school, and as the interview comes to a close, he remembers the invaluable advice he got from the Director of Fashion Admissions at EFM. “You don’t fit the scholar system, but you’ll make it on your own without help,” he was told, before being placed on a project with Jacquemus. “Just calm down, take a big walk, and you’ll realise how easy everything can be. Trust yourself and follow your instincts. Because if you believe in what you’re doing, no one can stop you” he continues to recall the advice with gratitude. Despite the initial fear, he took a leap of faith and embarked on a journey that led to the fantastical successes of today.
Words by Grace Powell
Photography by Tom Goddard
Styling by Daliah Spiegel
Make-up by Yulya Zalesskaya
Hair by Clément Billon
Set design by Rebecca Ilse
Casting by Conan Laurendot
Agnès Tassel —Let It Go Management
Chloé Dupuis — Crystal Models
Fabrice & Mariame — Studio Paris
Vincent V — Rock Men Paris
Yousra & Aurelie — City Models
Styling assistance by Julia Herold & Yaao Jiang
Set design assistance by Yelda Ceyda Oezme
Prop styling by Daliah Spiegel, Leonore Heritier, Rebecca Ilse, Yelda Ceyda Oezme
All clothing ABRA spring-summer ’23