Argentinian designer and art director Hernán Donoso first visited Berlin with a group of friends in 2015 and quickly became enamoured with the city. At the time, he had been studying and working in Spain and was searching for an alternative home in Europe. “There was a challenge and a freedom that the city was offering, and here I am still”, he told us.
We’ve been keeping an eye on Hernán since 2019 when we were introduced to his designs through a friend. Over the years, we’ve seen him transform his household into a workroom, and work tirelessly to perfect his art. His forte has always been accessories – harnesses with handy pockets, fanny packs, headscarves and caps. Recently, he has been expanding and is creating more tailored body pieces such as waistcoats, collars, vests, leather shorts and trousers.
We wanted to catch up with Hernán to find out how he is keeping up with his ever-growing brand. In this exclusive interview, we cover everything from the smell of sewing machines to being featured in Vogue.
Œ: What is your earliest memory of enjoying fashion and how did that memory evolve into becoming a designer?
Hernán: My mum is a seamstress. She used to be busy at night, finishing her orders. Whilst I was with her, she taught me how to cut fabrics. My house in Buenos Aires was full of fabrics everywhere and five sewing machines. You know, I can even still smell the oil of that room. She also used to buy European magazines like Burda and I remember asking her how to pronounce YSL, she knew how to perfectly.
When I moved to Europe I studied advertising and public relations but that wasn’t creative enough. So I relocated to Madrid and decided to study fashion design with a focus on accessories. I tried many times to work for brands like Loewe, which is a Spanish brand that produces in Madrid, but I failed. Unfortunately, fashion didn’t give me many opportunities, instead, I built my own space to work and learn. I went on to study art direction at Central Saint Martins but what I like the most is creating wearable things. Nothing makes me happier than creating something that sparks a connection with somebody – for me that’s magical!
Œ: How did your eponymous brand Hernán come into existence?
Hernán: My brand started officially in the Spring of 2019 when I made a collection of twelve pieces, which I showcased in Berlin. Some of these pieces I am still selling were in that original collection like the Ring Cap. The name took me a while. In the beginning, I didn’t want to put my name on it, and after a while, it felt stupid not to. It’s my brand. I poured everything into it so naming it after myself felt like the right choice. Currently, we are a small team of three – me and just two more people. We create every piece in Neukölln. It’s a lot of work and I always feel like I’m behind somehow, but I like the fact that it’s very organic, the pieces we make are pieces we need – that’s how you wear them better. I started working with a marketing agency to give me more business perspective, but the team is still small.
Œ: Who/What inspires you the most?
Hernán: It is hard for me to define this as one thing or person. I feel inspired most by those who reached the highest wave or boundary of their capabilities. The artist Francisco Goya with his black paintings and then El Greco from any period – when the proportions and bodies were completely altered. Cristobal Balenciaga, the way he got so deep into tailoring or thinking about how Dior and Chanel called him the master of his craft – to me, that is mindblowing! None of the designers nowadays want to understand how to tailor deeply and dedicate the time to execute it. Instead, they will be like: “Yes, I know how to sew, but I am bitchy enough to tell a whole team my vision”. Yes, times have changed. I get it, our capabilities are different now.
Sometimes inspiration comes from the fabrics themselves, when I see something and they ask me to turn it into something. Sometimes inspiration comes from social media or youtube; I love youtube. I can work and listen to interviews with people, whom I love or admire, some people have this innate ability to sedate and allure you just by talking.
Œ: What are the core values of your brand?
Hernán: I don’t know how big the brand will grow or what direction it will go in, but I know that I always want to portray the value of craftsmanship. Not that I am against technology, but the rhythm of the fashion industry is so machine-like now. We live in an age where an item created yesterday is already outdated. So I like to remind people that we humans exist. I’m a firm believer that good things take time. Talent takes time to develop. I want the brand to be associated with quality with a fun approach too… If that is even possible? *laughs*
Œ: Some of your items are so symbiotic with the classic “Berliner style” – the ring cap and fanny packs for example – are Berliners your target audience?
Hernán: I guess social media made the world more connected and “flat” in a way. I was in Buenos Aires a year ago and my friends there told me, “Let’s go to this place, it’s very Berlin!” I’ve also heard this in Paris. I live in Berlin and I am affected by the culture naturally, but, it’s not my aim to be a representation of the club scene. I think it is very needed culturally and Berlin enjoys a rich open culture, in which the club scene plays a big part here, and everywhere. So, yes, Berliners are part of my audience, but not all of it!
Œ: Your designs have been featured in Vogue, Sickymag and Puss Puss Mag to name a few – Which feature are you most proud of and why?
Hernán: All of these features meant something different to me. Vogue is like the bible so it’s good to be in there! The shooting with Carlota Guerrero and my pieces that were featured, of course, made a big impact on me. But, the one I would say I am most proud of is my feature in Puss Puss. I love the talent involved in that magazine, it feels much more like freedom of expression – that vibe means much more to me than just being popular.
Œ: You designed a custom piece Venezuelan Musician Arca – how did that collaboration come about?
Hernán: We met in Berlin and instantly, we were hooked! She was asking me so many things that I was not believing it at all. One night we were talking and she asked me: “Do you wanna make something for one of my performances?” I was freaking out. Back then, I only had four pictures on Instagram, she hadn’t seen any of my work in real life, but she still told me: “I know whatever you’re going to create, it’s going to be beautiful”. Yes, she is like that – she can see through your skin and guts – she just sees the truth. After I agreed, she told me: “I want you on stage with me to put the pieces on”. It was midnight. I had to go for a run in Tiergarten, just to realise what I was experiencing.
Œ: What is your current process? Are you doing designs to order or full collections?
Hernán: I do both. We work mostly on demand – some parts are produced in Spain like the metals and trimmings, but the rest are handmade in Berlin. I love it like that. I cannot imagine selling something that is made somewhere that I have no involvement with. Or thinking, I just did a sketch, and someone I don’t know, whom I have no relationship with is creating this for me?! I love the craft and working directly with my designs. As the brand is growing, I can find myself wondering how I’m going to imbue a part of myself on a bigger scale.
Œ: Where do you envision yourself and your brand in five years’ time?
Hernán: I see myself sewing *laughs* I see myself working with people that can teach me and inspire me more and more. I see beautiful materials and just me, perfecting my tailoring, perfecting my craft. I see myself based between Paris and Berlin. I love Berlin and I love Paris at certain times, and at different times. I love Paris outside of fashion week when I can enjoy the food, museums and people. I love Berlin because it’s a place that has so much, yet isn’t smug. If I were to take the production somewhere else, it would definitely be Spain. It’s like my third home, I have the feeling that when I can’t deal with things anymore, Spain heals me somehow.
Creative Direction – Hernán Donoso
Photography – Tobias Kruse
Styling – Lucas Avid Hübner
Hair and Makeup – Yousif Saleh
Photography Assistants – Max Nieberding and Akira Oberhofer
Models – Jamal Djukpa and Akin Victor
Harness – Hernán
Sunglasses– Vintage Dior
Jewellery – Nhat Vudang
Ring cap – Hernán
Trousers – Comme des Garçons
Top – Maris Pieper
Top and shorts – Tim Süssbauer
Bracelet – Model’s own
Jewellery – Nhat Vudang
Socks – 032c
Bag – Hernán