Meet the Sponsor: Queralt Ferrer, M&S

02 May 2016 by Roger Tredre

The director of design at British retail giant Marks & Spencer explains what she looks for in new talent.

High above west London’s Paddington Basin, Marks & Spencer design director Queralt Ferrer has just moved floor to a new office. The entire floor is in chaos with packing cases everywhere. At least there is calm to be found in the view from the window, overlooking the canal where the lunchtime crowd are chilling by the waterside.

Ferrer, who started her career in Spain – her home country – studying textiles at ESDI, is dressed for business in trousers and a mannish shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She speaks English with a strong accent, full of passion, energy and enthusiasm.

She was appointed last September to the newly created executive role at M&S of director of design for womenswear, lingerie and beauty, following two years running the Autograph and Limited ranges.

It’s a long way from Barcelona and La Coruña where the designer first made her name at Massimo Dutti, building the Inditex-owned brand into a retail nameto rank alongside its other global success story ­– Zara.

Queralt Ferrer knows full well the struggles of being a young designer. Back in the early 1990s, after studying at ESDI in Barcelona, she had intended to go into the family fabric business, focusing on men’s wovens. But recession struck and the company was a casualty of a downturn from which Spain’s textiles sector never really recovered.

So she ended up joining menswear retailer Massimo Dutti, then part-owned (and eventually fully owned) by Zara parent company Inditex. “One day, they asked me to go to Barcelona, do some shopping, and come back and say how I think womenswear could look.”

She came back, presented a grid of ideas, and found herself launching Massimo Dutti womenswear within two months – a pressure she appears to have relished. She stayed at Inditex for 17 years during the company’s period of stratospheric global growth before moving to London for M&S with her husband and three young children. “An amazing challenge – based in an amazing city!” she exclaims. “How could I refuse?”

What does she look for in a new designer? “The talent has to be there of course. They have to have fashion in their DNA, to love it. I look at the portfolio and how the designer interprets ideas. It has to have the wow factor. But there’s something else that is important – it’s how the designer sells the portfolio. If you work for a big company, you have to be able to sell your ideas. You can’t just be the quiet one in the corner.”

Texprint London 2015

It’s an aspect of the business that Texprint also emphasises to the 24 designers selected each year for the Texprint show in London in July and for Premiere Vision in Paris in September. Texprint’s team provides mentoring and practical advice on sales and marketing as well as creative development.

Ferrer acknowledges this shows in the maturity of the designers: “I usually go to Texprint in the summer in London. The work is really good, they show amazing projects. And yes, the designers are also very good and skilled at presenting and explaining their work.”

As a major long-term ‘foundation’ sponsor of Texprint, Marks & Spencer plays an important role in nurturing young design talent in textiles – building on its long and historic tradition of innovation in fabrics. “M&S is a company with such a strong heritage,” notes Ferrer. “The museum and archive in Leeds are amazing and inspiring. We are looking at this even more as we develop. The new Alexa Chung collection is based on the archives.”

M&S colleague Karen Peacock, head of womenswear design, talking with a designer at Texprint London 2014

The Archive by Alexa Chung collection, supported by the cool, hip British model and girl-about-town, was launched in April. It enthusiastically taps into vintage M&S designs. The launch is part of an initiative to draw a younger, more fashion-forward customer to the British high street veteran. It’s selling both online and in more than 50 stores.

Ferrer’s design eye loves the mix of old and new, so often seen at Texprint. She appreciates the authentic thrill of a classic hand-created print, clearly showing the creative handwriting of the designer. At the same time, she acknowledges the importance of digital technology to refine and complete a modern commercial design.

So how does she find working in the UK and with so many Brits? “Ah, I was already used to that. We had 25 to 30 designers at Massimo Dutti with people from Kingston, Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion. The Brits were easy, very good at integrating!” Ferrer seems to be doing that pretty well too.

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