Flying Solo: María Ruano Creates the HECHO II Fashion Collection

María Ruano discusses HECHO II: The Warrior’s Rest – how she evokes sensation in her fashions, and the blending of 3D and real-world creations.

María Ruano is the founder and Creative Director of Hacer Studio, an independent fashion studio notable for its focus on 3D fashion design, and its excellence in transferring these virtual designs into physical creations. María recently took the time to detail the second part of her HECHO collection, HECHO II: The Warrior’s Rest.

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Environment and motion graphics: Gabriel Ramirez. Video editing: Javier Paradinas.

Hacer Studio

‘Hacer’ means ‘to do’, or ‘to make’. I realized some time ago that ‘Hacer’ is what excites me – doing, making, sewing, designing, generating concepts, making collages, making garments in 3D, cooking. That sense of action, everywhere, is ‘Hacer’. Later, when I founded my studio, ‘Hacer’ was the natural name for it.

HECHO I, and the Genesis of Design

For me, the concepts usually have a base that starts from the analog, the artisan, the artistic. These are the main sensations; I usually draw inspiration from paying attention to my senses – for example, the previous collection, HECHO I, arose from contemplating a photo by Wolfgang Tillmans which featured carnations; it evoked sensations of grunge, and reminded me of carnations from my childhood. I began to extract colors, and I made a palette with watercolor; I photographed that palette, and from there I digitized the colors, and began to develop patterns that, when materialized, were evocative of the essence of the Bauhaus.

HECHO means ‘fact’ – a thing that is true, and/or a thing that is real, and concrete. It typified the style of working that I had in mind; I began the project the same day that this idea came to me.

Garments from the HECHO I collection.

From here I wanted to find a harmonious contrast, and this led me to plastics and velvets. I took sculptural references that merge with patterns that are always references for me, such as Worth and Balenciaga and I created scarves to complement these patterns. My grandmother used to wear scarves when I was a child; here, I dressed my virtual models in these scarves in the same way that my grandmother would wear them (I am a romantic). And this is how I play, to create my collections; for me, fashion is a very serious game – but it is still a game. My collections don’t usually have a theme; I tend to talk about them as sensations materialized in clothes, or in features of a culture.

Artwork by María Ruano

When HECHO began to take shape, I wanted to propose the first three HECHO collections as an evolutionary trilogy. HECHO I would be completely digital; HECHO II would be digital, and combined with the Hitos/Milestones collaborations; HECHO III will be include both digital and physical garments.

Books of Cloth and Paper

Normally I keep things like fabrics, clippings, magazines (throughout my whole life!), and use them for my creative game. This is what happened with the Wolfgang Tillmans photo, for instance, which was a clipping from a 90s magazine. Using these resources, I build, for example, color palettes, and in parallel I make these books of fabric and paper in which I capture shapes and sensations. I created an artbook that detailed my first collection that was completely virtual, HECHO I.

For me, these artbooks are the genesis of my projects. They detail different worlds within each project.

HECHO II: The Warrior’s Rest

I presented my second collection, HECHO II, on January 28. The title of the collection, ‘The Warrior’s Rest’, is directly drawn from Bushidō, the way of the warrior – just as the collection is itself, in fact.

The concept of the scene you see in this HECHO II is that these women warriors are in Semâ – this is how I’ve named this domain where they are waiting in peace; it is a waiting room that bridges the space between their world and the metaverse. There are no battles in Semâ. They are resting, now, waiting to begin a mission of exploration.

Really, the scene shows just a brief slice of the larger story, while at the same time introducing these characters. It may or may not detail their past and future; there may or may not be a fresh battle to come.

This collection is a whim of putting together things that I like, and playing with them. I’m imagining a woman with a lot of inner strength; a long time ago I heard the story of the historical ‘onna-bugeisha,’ or samurai women. It is a part of history that isn’t widely known, and yet these women played important roles. I decided to create a character that would be a conceptual tribute to these women, and that would show their feminine strength.

My Honna-Mutza represent the spirit of many women warriors. And I do not limit this spirit to physical struggle, or to great moments in history. There are many Honna-Mutza in our lives – my mother, for instance, is a true Samurai.

Regarding aesthetics, there is a mix; I always found there’s a link between a certain science-fiction aesthetic, and the hats and patterns by Cristobal Balenciaga. He is a reference in my work, and I’ve always seen that there was something Samurai in his way of working. Really, his own references included rigor and spirituality.

My whim was to generate an aesthetic of impact and with all the things that move me, I studied how I could merge classic patterns, with moulage, and with the things that I tailor and sew and pattern within 3D; I wanted to imbue these 3D creations with the same feeling and state that I strive to convey on my table and with my sewing machine. And by this stage I wasn’t only drawing on Balenciaga, but also on Vionnet and even Margiela; these creators are geniuses, who never fail to inspire me to do good work.

The crest on the helmet of the Honna-Mutza is an abstraction of headdresses and combs worn by other warriors, the kunoichi. They were similar to ninja, in that their missions included infiltration, espionage, and murder. The kunoichi had their own particular style in accomplishing these goals; seduction was one of their tools to allow them to get closer to their target.

You can see the ‘H’ for ‘Hacer’ in there, too.

Overall, my objectives with this collection were to experiment, investigate, grow, learn, and create new workflows in which digital, virtual fashion, crafts, and fashion become one and the same. And my most important objective is simply to enjoy my work.

The conclusion of the HECHO series will come with the next collection, HECHO III, which will mix virtual garments with real garments. An advantage for me is that I do not follow a fashion calendar, so HECHO III will likely take a little longer than the previous collections.

The Hitos Collaborations

In this collection I reproduced virtual garments, and I collaborated with different artists to create a number of different artworks in parallel with this. We call these collaborations ‘Hitos’; the artists draw inspiration from the key symbols of my collection – from the helmet of the warrior in HECHO II, for example – and use this inspiration to represent the sensations of the collection in new ways. They’re essentially a way of converting and growing the cultural impact of our creations, born from a new perspective of fashion that begins in the virtual space and extends into the real, physical world.

Artwork by Roi Pardo

Artwork by Roi Pardo, one of the Hitos collaboration artists.

Blending the Conventional and the Virtual

For me, touching fabrics and materials, and building and sewing with my own hands, is almost like breathing. It’s a necessity. My first contact with fashion was sewing, and for me all the love I feel for fashion stems from this. I usually start working with toiles with the moulage technique, marking thread, against thread and bias. Like this, I generate forms that start from the characteristics of the fabric (sometimes they are garments that come from Clo). Once part of the form is ready, I create a pattern, and with this we have a base to create more garments.

The wonderful thing about working in 3D, with tools such as Clo, is that you can recreate this base in 3D and see its variations in minutes; you get to see possibilities and discards without wasting fabric. In the case of large companies, this is an even bigger advantage because you create communication systems between creative and technical teams that potentially transmit information much more clearly than by using conventional methods. It also reduces the need for materials for prototypes or unending samples that are ultimately never produced, as well as the cost and time necessary to ship these samples and prototypes.

The Creative Journey

I believe that each creator has to find his or her own way. The creative process doesn’t start on one good day; rather, it´s necessary to take care of that process, to follow your own steps and to allow these steps to evolve or change, so that it becomes what each creator needs, and you can work without haste. Feeling comfortable, and being happy with your process, is as important as your result. You need to ‘enjoy the ride’. Currently, my own ideal way of working is to merge digital processes with analog, as each project demands.

Right now I´m working on a real-life dress that originated in Clo3D. I used the software to make the pattern and define the material, and then I exported the pattern and printed it on paper. I converted it to fabric and now I’m sewing it and finishing it by hand.

Fashion in 3D

I began working with 3D because I thought this was the path I had to follow in order to continue walking within the fashion creation circuit. Also, in truth, I simply found it interesting; it was an area I wanted to pursue. Then, with the COVID situation, I think my vision proved to be correct – working in 3D has allowed me to continue working and growing. 3D also allows me to communicate more accurately with clients and teams, both in physical companies and when working remotely. I can show my technical processes more visually, and more completely. Working in 3D lets me capture ideas with a level of freshness – and also provides me with a 360-degree image that I can reflect on later, more deeply.

I think the learning curve with 3D isn’t so different from other formats or techniques. For me, when I’ve worked in analog, then on a computer in 2D, and then with modeling and physical patterns, I’ve followed a similar process of understanding the technique and the environments, programs, tools, materials, and formats. With 3D it is as important to understand what happens inside the computer as it is to understand the processes outside it – that is, you have to understand performance, how to manage projects, know the interface and the tools, and you just have to practice for hours. Clo3D and Substance, for example, are very intuitive applications that improve with each update, and that help to create optimal workflows to keep things easy for the user.

Texturing

With textures, I think you have to learn by playing around, and experimenting with parameters without fear (this is very important when playing with practice files!). You mix things around, and take a few risks, and then you treat the lighting, mesh, and texture as one overall creation.

A lot of the time the texture carries a certain responsibility, in that by improving or adapting the lighting you can soften or enhance certain features of the creation. The mesh can in turn also play a determining role on the texture. If I’m working with everything in parallel, and particularly when I’m dealing with fabrics, I can have a hyper-realistic texture – but if the mesh doesn’t have a realistic weight, or position, or appropriate seams, the whole creation just won’t work.

Rendering

In terms of how I approach rendering, I use the Clo3D renderer for short shots or small scenes, or for example to create a lookbook (I know that it’s considered a complimentary software, but it works for me). I think that by adjusting the appropriate parameters you can get shots of a quality and realism that other renderers don’t necessarily give, for this type of project. I found this to be true before the Substance integration in Clo3D, and now it’s even easier. Afterwards, if I have to recreate a certain creative direction with scenes, or implement animations in several elements, I might render with Octane, for example.

A Necessary Evolution

I think that the use of 3D in fashion still has some distance to go before the tools, and the level of experience of those who use them, reaches the quality already established in other areas of design processes, such as in the automotive sector.

My own feeling is that teams that include fashion designers, pattern makers, buyers, and marketing personnel need to start using 3D tools as part of the fashion creation and manufacturing process. This will optimize communication, and create an overall process that is less expensive and more sustainable. Yes, it can be tedious to implement new tools – for independent designers, and particularly for teams working within very large brands – but it isn’t impossible.

In any case, this change of working habits will likely evolve and develop naturally.

Meet María Ruano

In 2010 María submitted the thesis for her Fashion Design degree to a competition for young designers organized by Vogue Italia; she won the competition and subsequently, with the support of Franca Sozzani (Fashion Editor Vogue Italia) and the Aeffe group (Alberta Ferretti) produced her first collection, focusing on personal garments and sustainability. She thereafter spent six years as Brand Director at Amarras; in parallel, she presented a paper on sustainability in fashion at a UNESCO Chairs congress, in 2011.

Since then, she has worked on a freelance basis for brands in the areas of consulting, art direction, and fashion production development (casual, sport, and workwear). She currently runs her own design studio, Hacer Studio, and she teaches Art Direction at the IDEM Institute of Styling and Fashion in Madrid, as well as design and production processes at the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED), also in Madrid.