Creative Gibraltar : Rock Fashion Rocks!

For the past few weeks the Gustavo Bacarisas gallery in Casemates Square has played host to haute couture. The Rock Fashion Rocks exhibition has now sadly come to an end but last week I took a few minutes out of my day to pay it a visit. From the moment I set foot in the building it was clear that this wasn’t your average exhibition!

Described as a retrospective exhibition celebrating fashion design in Gibraltar over the past forty years, I was looking forward to finding out a lot more about the Rock’s fashion heritage.

The first section of the exhibition was dedicated to the work of two of Gibraltar’s fashion designers who are now no longer with us; Eduardo Viotto (1961 – 1994) and Johnny Pearce (1946 – 1987).

Eduardo (or Eddie as he was known) first came in fashion through designing costumes for theatre productions in Gibraltar and in 1984 won a competition to design the Miss Gibraltar National Costume to be worn by the winner at the Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Europe pageants. He studied in London but returned to Gibraltar and worked here on a number of collections and for clients.

Johnny Pearce, a Gibraltarian designer, who travelled to London to work, secured a job in the 1960s with the British fashion designer, Norman Hartnell (who designed clothes for the royal family). He later returned to Gibraltar and went into partnership with another designer, Nalanie Chellaram to form their own collection known as JOANAL which sold to clientele which included Baronesses, Countesses and Princesses.

The next section, was the one I am most familiar with, it featured work created by my dressmaking teacher, Dorcas Hammond:

To find out a bit more about Dorcas’s story, please take a look at this post, which I wrote about her last year. In her section of the exhibition were a number of beautiful gowns which she designed and created, including the one below which was worn by the 2015 Miss Gibraltar winner Hannah Bado when she went to the Miss World pageant.

Dorcas has won several designer competitions including the Agulha de Ouro (Golden Needle) in Portugal, back in 2004. Her trophy of a golden needle was on display in the exhibition too. To see more of Dorcas’s current designs, and maybe even buy one for yourself, check out her online shop.

Sharing this section with Dorcas, was another designer who has made many outfits for Miss Gibraltar pageants; Priscilla Sacramento. Priscilla did her dressmaking and design work alongside her day job as a teacher and ultimately the headteacher of St Martin’s Special School in Gibraltar. Her vast portfolio includes many hats and fascinators, as well as the beautiful gowns below:

Next up was Jane Langdon. Jane trained as an artist in Florence and Madrid before returning to Gibraltar. She now turns her beautiful art work into fabric for garments and accessories:

Jane Langdon
Jane Langdon

Tiana Langdon (daughter of Jane Langdon) is also an artist and designer. Having studied at Central St Martins, she worked with John Galliano at the House of Dior. She later worked freelance for a number of fashion houses including Loewe, Emanuel Ungaro, Mala Mujer, Revillon, Roberto Cavalli and Missoni.

Tiana Langdon

Giorann Henshaw is well known in Gibraltar in the Arts & Crafts scene, she’s a founder of the Gibraltar Arts & Crafts association, as well as being an artist and art teacher. She was accepted for a one year foundation course at Royal Worcester Porcelain when she was seventeen and there learned how to paint china and porcelain. She later graduated to work in the factory painting dinnerware, and other ceramic items. Giorann loves to paint flowers and landscapes and began painting shoes for her cousin Dorcas Hammond, who needed a pair to match a dress she had painted. She continued to paint satin shoes after that along with clothing and soft furnishings.

Willa Vasquez was born in Gibraltar to a family of artists, and over the past 40 years has taught many adults and children to paint. She has also designed dresses and wedding gowns, along with jewellery. She recently launched her own brand of 100% silk scarves featuring designs from her own art work.

Paul Perez (designs featured below) first began sewing under the tuition of his grandmother, he later went to Epsom to study Fashion Design. He designs luxury clothing as well as teaching young people in schools in design based subjects.

Gabriella Sardeña knew from early on that she wanted a career in fashion. She learned to sew as a child and studied for a Textiles GCSE for which she created a hand painted kimono. Gabriella later worked at Dorcas Hammond’s studio where she learned pattern cutting and precision sewing before heading to Manchester School of Art to study for her degree. Winning an internship at ‘Old Navy’ in San Francisco during her final year, and then a six month paid  internship at French brand Celine on completion of her Masters, who knows where the years ahead will take her.

Gabriella Sardeña

Christel Mifsud Victory set up her own label ‘Shorji” in 2013 and went on to open Gibraltar’s first sportswear boutique in September 2015. Originally, Christel started designing due to the lack of clothing she found available for petite women like herself. Her best selling items are leggings and she has a fascination for print and bold colours.

Gail Howard (below)  has had no formal training in Art and Design, but still managed to win the Runway New Designer Competition 2016 in Gibraltar, she then exhibited in London Fashion week in February last year and her collection was very well received. Gail is another designer to look out for in the future.

The final section of the exhibition featured two outfits created by Dorcas Hammond, firstly the Gibraltar National Dress which is worn by Miss Gibraltar contestants when they represent the Rock in international competitions such as Miss World:

And the dress worn by Kaiane Aldorino when she won the Miss World crown for Gibraltar in 2009.

Until I set foot into the exhibition I really didn’t have a clue about the amazing heritage of fashion design that’s here on the Rock. What an amazing place to live, amongst so much talent and creativity. Thank you so much to both the designers and the organisers of the exhibition – it was truly eye opening.

Creative Gibraltar : Fashion Design & Dressmaking with Dorcas Hammond

From making clothes for her Pippa doll out of scraps of discarded fabric, to creating the dress worn by Miss Gibraltar the night she became Miss World and setting dozens of sewing students off on their own making and designing careers, Dorcas Hammond tells  me how she turned her passion into a creative business.

Christened with the name of a seamstress from the Old Testament, it would seem that Dorcas Hammond was born to sew. Her father, who Dorcas describes as a very religious man, had liked the name and as his wife was a keen seamstress herself, he thought it appropriate to name his second daughter Dorcas. Little did he know at that time, what an accomplished designer and dressmaker, she would later become.

Dorcas began sewing at a very young age. Her mother made curtains at home and she picked up the remnants of curtain fabric and hand sewed them to make dolls clothes. By the age of six, she was using her mother’s sewing machine in secret with the help of her older sister, Ingrid. “When my mother was out, my sister helped me get the sewing machine to work” she told me. The pair would operate the tredle-powered machine until Dorcas was able to manage on her own using her tip-toes to reach the pedal.

Her secret was only discovered when “the ironing lady (who came to the house) said she needed two sheets sewing together but as my mother wasn’t there it couldn’t be done. I told her I would do it and machined them together for her … the ironing lady told my mother that it was me who had done the sewing”. After being rumbled for using the sewing machine, Dorcas’s mum put her to work doing embroidery but she hated it, “I remember embroidering this bird and it was rubbish, I just wanted to sew”.

Later on in childhood, she would make simple clothes using Burda and Simplicity patterns and experiment with her cousin. They would lock themselves into a bedroom and measure, sew and fit the clothes. No one was allowed to see what they had done until they were completely happy with the finished result.

Dorcas’s passion for sewing continued into her teens, she began making clothes for clients at the age of 18 while working in a cosmetics shop on Main Street. Each lunchtime she would rush home at 1 o’clock, her mother would have her lunch prepared for her and she’d spend her lunch break sewing garments for clients before returning to work at 3pm for the second half of her shift.

In the evening, Dorcas would begin her sewing work again with the help of her mum. “My mother would go to bed when she got tired, but I would carry on until I’d finished. I couldn’t sleep until the garment was on the hanger – sometimes I’d sew until 2am”.

Sewing has run in Dorcas’ family for generations. Her grandmother had a workshop with her own mother making clothes. When Dorcas told her mum that she would like a workshop like her grandmother’s (at a time when no one else had one in Gibraltar), her mother said she was crazy and said she was to keep working at her job in the shop.

It wasn’t until the age of 26, when she’d been married and had her two sons and “had a load of problems that I decided it was the time to do it”. The ICC shopping centre had just opened in town and she opened her first shop there.

At that time, Dorcas created her garments using manufactured patterns but soon discovered that they didn’t always work well for her clients. “Someone would want a dress with a sleeve from this pattern, the skirt from another pattern and a top from the other pattern”. Dorcas then had to decipher how she was going to join all the elements together.

She’d had no formal training but was given a book of instructions on how to cut your own patterns by one of the ladies who did sewing for her. “I still have that book to this day” she says, “it was very old but I went through it and as I have always had a good eye, I knew some parts were wrong for what I was making. It was the first steps to the pattern cutting system I use and teach now”.

The first made-to-measure garments Dorcas created (using her own patterns) were for her mum before implementing the method in her shop. Because she’d not been formally taught how to make the patterns properly, Dorcas says she was always scared that she wouldn’t have enough fabric to fit the garments properly. As a consequence, she cut huge seam allowances. It wasn’t until she went to a crash course in pattern cutting in Madrid in 2000, that she learned the seam allowances only need to be 1 or 2cms.

While in Madrid, she was asked by one of the teachers why she had come to the course as Dorcas had created the best sample jacket sleeve the teacher had ever seen. It was thanks to this compliment that Dorcas left filled with the confidence to truly believe in her designing and dressmaking capabilities. That was almost seventeen years ago and since then her business has gone from strength to strength.


Alongside her dressmaking and designing business, Dorcas inadvertantly ended up teaching the skills she’d developed over the years to others. During the time she had run her shop, people had occasionally asked her to teach them dressmaking. She also took on interns every now and then from University, however it was an ecclesiastical request which set her on the road to teaching properly.

“I was at a song contest and Father Caruana asked me if I would teach some of his social cases. By the time I said yes, a room had already been set aside at Nazareth House and six sewing machines had been bought”. Dorcas spent several years volunteering at Nazareth House teaching not just sewing but life skills to the young women who attended the classes. She says “we discussed things like what you should wear to go to a job interview and how to behave” a bit like a mother or big sister might.


The lessons came to an end when Father Caruana died, but there were still a few students who wanted to carry on being taught. Eventually, Dorcas needed to find new premises for the lessons and converted the rear of her workshop into a classroom and began the Dorcas Hammond Fashion Academy. After perfecting her own method of pattern cutting, she compiled all her notes into a four year course to teach dressmaking, from beginners through to tailoring and wedding dress design.

Dorcas says she has had many highs throughout her career including fashion shows in London, Marbella, Morocco, Madrid and Portugal. She designed and created the Gibraltar National Costume worn by the Miss Gibraltar contestants when they attend pageants, and is most famous for creating the dress worn by the 2009 winner of Miss World, Gibraltar’s Kaiane Aldorino.

Kaiane Aldorino wearing Dorcas’s National costume

Dorcas says she still gets a thrill out of making dresses “I love what I do… I get butterflies in my stomach when it looks good”. The biggest highlight for her though, is seeing her students go out from her Academy and make the most of their great potential. So far she has seen former students go on to study fashion at University, get PGCEs and go into teaching themselves and one has opened her own fashion boutique. “I want them to achieve what I haven’t and fulfill their dreams” she says.

So what does the future hold for Dorcas? “Well I’m a chicken” she says. “If I haven’t done more things it’s because I take a long time thinking about doing them. When I was young I just jumped into things, but not so much now”. Her small alterations and dressmaking shop developed into a fashion design business and academy and the next step will see her selling her fashion designs online. “Some days I wake up and I say who will buy my clothes? But then I think if other people can do it why can’t I?”

Dorcas is currently working on her first online collection and is looking forward to launching it later on in 2017. You can find Dorcas at her shop on Governor’s Street and on Facebook and Twitter as Dorcas Hammond Fashion Design.

Also in the Creative Gibraltar series:

Creative Gibraltar : Watercolour painting with Deborah M Lawson

The Postcard from Gibraltar Podcast Episode 004: Rebecca Faller 

Sunday Sevens #49 18.9.16

Bus stop crochet

This week has seen me with actual free time during the day as all three Little Postcards went to school for full days for five whole days. I can’t tell you what a difference that has made for me in terms of being able to get things done. The house has been cleaned, the ironing is up to date and I even managed to fit in a bit of crochet too. I’m working away on my #sixtymilliontrebles blanket and trying to do a little bit every day.

When it’s finished it will be added to many other blankets to make the biggest crochet blanket in the world which is being created to raise awareness for the sixty million refugees in the world today. It will then go on to be a blanket for someone who needs it either in the UK or Syria. For more information on the project look out for sixty million trebles on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Back to school for me

The time came this week for me to return to school myself. I’m now in my second year at the Dorcas Hammond Fashion Academy in Gibraltar. Last year it was all about skirts, this year I’m learning about tops and dresses. We hit the ground running this week with our first lesson in drawing our own pattern to make a vest top. It’s been interesting and challenging so far, although reassuring that I haven’t forgotten everything I’d learned last time!

Here comes the rain

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you may remember me banging on about the weather here in Gibraltar since we returned from our holiday in England in the summer. It’s been really unbearably hot with a scorcher of a heat wave. On Tuesday, the rain came in spectacular style with thunder and lightning and with it came cooler weather… what a relief!

Normal service is resumed…

Once the rain had cleared off the sun came back but with less ferocity. This is the kind of weather when it’s a pleasure to live here, clear blue skies and sunshine but actually being able to function without wilting and needing several showers a day! I took this photo on a walk by Rosia Bay on Thursday morning, it was just so blue and beautiful.

Back to painting class too

Another of my regular weekly classes started up again this week, my lovely, relaxing watercolour classes. Oh how I have missed these lessons over the long summer break. I had grand plans to paint when I was on holiday this year and managed to get to my destination with the correct paper but had forgotten to pack my paint and brushes! I had hoped to do a bit more painting during my Summer Craft Challenge, but as it requires a bit of space, time and equipment it didn’t really happen during the school holidays.

This week I finished off a watercolour of the Rock of Gibraltar and discussed some ideas about what my next project will be. I have been greatly inspired by our English seaside holiday this year, so hope to recapture that on paper soon. Whether it will look anything like I have in my head is another matter!

A Pokemon birthday

We have been celebrating a birthday again in the Postcard household this week. I was given a design brief of the Deathstar from Star Wars for the cake. After Googleing images of Death Star birthday cakes, I soon came to the conclusion that it may be slightly beyond my skill set. As Pokemon is currently on trend in our house I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong with a Pokeball cake instead. It went down very well with the birthday boy and tasted ok too. Everyone was happy and that’s another party out of the way – phew!

Bumper harvest

Here’s something to make you allotment holders and veg patch devotees chuckle… This year we treated ourselves to a fig tree, they grow like weeds here. There’s one at the end of our road which is cut back to a stump every year to stop it overhanging the road, and every year it grows back as big as ever and is laden with fruit.

Our little tree which is no more than a metre tall had about a dozen fruit on it earlier in the summer. ‘Not bad for the first year’ I thought. I watched the largest fruit swell to the size you see in the supermarket but it looked a little under ripe to pick. A day later, it was perfect – so perfect the ants had invaded and were devouring it.

What a shame – but never mind there were still plenty of others to have a go at. Each time I was on the patio hanging out washing I noticed that the remaining figs were growing fewer in number everytime I looked. Either something or someone had been pilfering our figs – they hadn’t fallen off as there was no sign anywhere in the garden of the fruit.

Yesterday while doing the laundry I spotted we had just two left on the tree, so I picked them – that way we can at least taste them when they ripen (I hope they ripen ok when they are picked!). It’s a mystery as to what’s happened to the rest of our crop… and to think I had envisioned making all sorts of recipes with our home grown figs. They are a rather puny couple of specimens, but at least they have done zero food miles 😉


Thank you for joining me for Sunday Sevens again this week, it’s been lovely to have your company!

Sunday Sevens is a weekly blog series created by Natalie at Threads & Bobbins