One half of Latin-inspired label Borgo de Nor, Carmen Borgonovo, tells MOJEH what shapes her colourful collections.
Carmen Borgonovo, 45, strides into our shoot at the Bulgari Hotel exuding effortless glamour alongside a no-nonsense practicality. It’s a powerful combination of flair and function, and one that’s entirely apt given that her debut dress line Borgo de Nor celebrates women who are both “master and muse”. This season, Carmen and her partner Joana de Noronha will celebrate creating the holy grail of every woman’s wardrobe — a dress that’s versatile enough to wear at a chic beach bar as it is a city wedding. Carmen met her co-creator through her Italian husband. “He knew Joana through mutual friends,” she recalls. “I had heard about her, and she had heard about me, but we had never met until she was setting up her own swimwear showroom, Barefoot Chic. She called me and said will you come in and consult with me and some of my brands. Once we started working together, we realised that it just worked really well.” Joana had previously worked for Diane von Furstenberg and Heidi Klein. “We started looking at the market, and I always felt there was a niche in the market for dresses which are holiday to city, city to beach, to weddings and parties, but are not at a price point that is painful.” Their combined experience made it a seemingly-easy transition to launch their own label. Carmen, who emigrated to Miami as a child to escape El Salvador’s civil war — started as an intern at New York’s glossy fashion magazine Mirabella, working her way through the ranks to stints at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In 2004 she moved to Milan to become creative director for Hogan — part of the Tod’s group — and fashion director at the London-based e-commerce site MyWardrobe.com.
“I worked in editorial on and off for 20 years, and when I worked for Hogan for four years in Italy I really lived that factory production life,” she recalls. “I’d sleep twice a week in the factory, so that informed me about what it takes to produce a line. And when I was with MyWardrobe.com as a buyer, that really taught me what sells. Then with Joana’s expertise on sales, it all just came together and now flows really well. We had enough knowledge and confidence and experience between us to launch it.” With their connections they were also able to tap into advice from friends in high fashion places. “I’m very close with Thakoon, he’s a really dear friend of mine and he has been really supportive,” she says. “Katherine Holmgren [cofounder and CEO of Galvan], was incredible. She was so open with all the information she could give me. And I used to consult with the Palmer Harding boys and they were very helpful. It’s great to see how close everyone in the industry is.”
Carmen says her Latin heritage was a key inspiration behind the label’s fantasy-orientated prints and designs. “Frida Kahlo was one of the women that inspired us,” she says. “I’m Latin-American and Joana is from Portugal so we can relate to the use of colour, her life, spirit and independence. A lot of the designs come from art. I’m really inspired by the women in the surrealist movement and their spirit. They’re independent and very strong and the prints are very bold, and I think it has a lot do with capturing that beauty and fierceness.” Borgo de Nor’s custom-designed prints are floral and feminine, but with a quirky edge. “It can be a floral explosion, with a sundial and then it has these little lips,” says Carmen. “The more you look at these prints, the more you discover. It’s magical. The sundial I discovered on my trip in Turkey and I thought this is beautiful and we have to turn this into a print.”
Further inspirations include the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and the artist Leonora Carrington. “I don’t think you should ever make one thing the only thing in your life, because that can be quite damaging,” she says. “I think it’s important to try and keep a balance. I think it’s good to take a break from what you love sometimes so you can come back to it refreshed. Even if it’s reading books, going to concerts. It’s good to keep your mind open to all kinds of stimulation.” As befits their own diverse backgrounds, Borgo de Nor’s customer base is incredibly global. “Most of our customers are in Europe, the Middle East and the States,” she says, adding that Dubai seems like a natural fit for her dresses. “Dubai seems like a bit more of a polished Miami. I think there’s something really elegant about dressing in a more modest way. Our brand is good for the Middle East because of the colour, and because it’s not overtly sexy. Less is more and I think the Middle Eastern woman is really beautiful in that way, the way she covers herself. I adore Queen Rania’s style, she’s so beautiful.”
Although the brand works with influencers and harnesses social media, they prefer to work organically. “It’s incredible how much the fashion industry has changed in the past 10 years,” she says. “I do think fashion influencers and magazines and designers all need to co-exist together — they [influencers] have changed the way fashion is. Social media is an incredible platform for us, it’s our way to market our image. We have worked with influencers but they’re more friends of ours. We also want for them to want to wear our dresses.” Of course, Carmen herself is something of a muse for her own label. She says that she loves to wear the dresses by day with gladiator sandals, flatforms or trainers — “really modern and very wearable”. And by night she simply pairs them with “just beautiful strappy heels.” It might not be too long before those heels are being designed by her own hand. “The plan is to go into separates, expanding into costume jewellery handbags and shoes. We want to create a whole world of Borgo De Nor.”
The Borgo de Nor capsule collection is available exclusively at Ounass.com
Words by Kate Wills.