Asking the founders of Wearers Festival 'Where do you go?'

We talk to Nao Zaragoza and Nessa Racine about ballet and bombaloni

Every now and again we like to ask people for their personal take on London. We get them to tell us the places in the city that they turn to for different reasons: the spots that excite them, inspire them, make them feel calm, happy or just make them want to spend money. We call it ‘Where do you go?’.

This week it’s the turn of the founders of the Wearers Festival, a non-fashion festival that is on a mission to “generate inclusive spaces for learning, enjoyment, discussion, reflection and pleasure around the intimate relationship between people’s clothes and their bodies.”

Who are you?

Nao Zaragoza (above, left). I am a Mexican curator and cultural producer.

Nessa Recine (above, right). I am an Italian/Canadian curator and producer. We are both co-founders of Wearers Festival.

How would you describe Wearers Festival to someone who flinches at the word 'fashion’?

Forget about the word “fashion” and let’s look into the concept of “dress”. Fashion is a system and an industry that encompasses processes, institutions and individuals (designers, brands, magazines, celebrities, fashion shows, etc.).

Dress is a practice familiar to each and everyone of us, and it has to do with the ways we “decorate” our bodies: clothes, shoes, hair, makeup, tattoos, piercings, jewellery, etc. Not everyone has an interest in fashion, but everyone – no exceptions – dresses their bodies every day. 

Wearers Festival explores dress, and the ways in which it is used by people to shape their identities, express ideologies, demonstrate affiliation to specific communities, tell stories, and more. We focus on the wearer and their relationship to clothes in terms of culture, society, politics, history and environment. After all, nothing we put on our bodies is ever random.

There is always a meaning, even when it’s not immediately obvious. Digging into those meanings is fun, it’s interesting, it builds community and it’s what we are aiming to do through the events we produce. 

How do you think lockdown has impacted how Londoners dress?

There are as many answers to that question as there are Londoners, but of course we can see a few trends going on. For some Londoners, lockdown was a realisation of all the clothes they had hanging in their closets – that they either didn’t really wear or need – and took the opportunity to embrace minimalism and detox their wardrobes (charity shops were drowning with donations as soon as they re-opened).

Some Londoners got used to comfortable clothes and shook the foundations of corporate dress policy by proving that one doesn’t need to wear a tie to perform better at work.

Some Londoners (we identify with this category) missed dressing up and expressing themselves through their clothes so much during lockdown that even a trip to the post office was a good excuse to embrace extravagance. We saw people’s social media content humorously express how much they were looking forward to showing off the clothes they purchased online during lockdown.

The pandemic also made us reflect on the impact that consumption has had on the environment and embrace sustainable practices and emotional refuge in crafts, such as upcycling and needlework. We had so much time on our hands during the last year and so many aspects of our lives were put into question that one way or another made many Londoners re-evaluate their relationships with their clothes. 

Is the London fashion world becoming less rarefied? Do you think the internet has democratised it to some extent?

There is more to “democratising” fashion than just what the internet can do. However, the internet has certainly offered a window (to everyone with internet access) into aspects of the fashion system that were once inaccessible for most people at the forefront.

Brands now offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of their work and craftsmanship, locate new talent through social media, give us access to exclusive catwalks and events/initiatives; celebrities, content creators and people in general use these platforms to share what they wear everyday, magazines and fashion platforms spread their messages and content for free, etc.

More than democratising fashion, what we are trying to do at Wearers Festival is to tackle the general misconception that dress is a superfluous, irrelevant topic – an idea that has been perpetuated through centuries of patriarchy. Dress is so personal and collective, so universal and so charged with meaning that it has repercussions on every aspect of our daily lives. It deserves to be taken seriously. 

You talk about London quite a bit on your website. What’s the connection for you between London and fashion?

The fashion system thrives in big cities because it relies on a hunger for originality, innovation and constant change, as well as a certain level of rejection from conservativism and established canons.

London has a unique set of characteristics that when combined, make for an exceptional landscape of personal expression and street style: it’s multicultural presence and different ethnic communities coexisting together, it’s vibrant cultural and art industries, it’s growing fashion industry full of talent, it’s constant flow of immigrants moving in and out, it’s four seasons, and its interesting history of subcultures, which have unique dress codes that encode details of their rejection of the establishment and have been influential to the point of becoming instantly recognisable, such as the punks.

These are only a few reasons why, as Londoners and immigrants ourselves, it excites us to produce Wearers Festival in London. There is no end to its potential. 

Okay, on to the rest of the questions. First: Why should we trust you?

Nao: I moved to London in 2019 to study an MA and ended up marrying a lovely British guy from Surrey, so I stayed. I have lived in Battersea, London Bridge and I currently live in Peckham. Next month I am moving to Crystal Palace with my husband and my two cats and I can't wait!

Nessa: I moved here two years ago and I live in West Ealing. What I love about London is its huge sense of community, talented creatives and international reach. I want to stay in London because I finally feel like I belong! I love the life I’m building here and I am looking forward to seeing what that will look like in the future.

Where do you go to have a great time?

Nao: Girl Power Party at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club.

Where do you go and always end up spending too much money?

Nao: My local flea market, Peckham Salvage Yard at Copeland Park (above), the charity shops of Dalston and the second hand book shops near Charing Cross.

Where do you go that can never close down, because if it does you might cry?

Nao: Dishoom. I live for their Prawn Koliwada, Chicken Ruby and the Chai (mouth watering as I type). 

Where do you go to cheer yourself up?

Nessa: A Triyoga hot yoga class, in the park to meditate in nature, to an exhibition, or Lina Stores for a bombaloni (above)

Where do you go to be alone?

Nessa: The London Coliseum to see the ballet. I see the Nutcracker every Christmas.

Where do you go that's within walking distance of your house?

Nao: Copeland Park (above) and Peckham Levels.

Where do you go when you can afford it?

Nessa: Laduree for their pastries and macaroons because who doesn't love French pastry? 

Where do you go if you want to feel comfortable?

Nessa: Harry’s Dolce Vita (above) for their minestrone because it reminds me of my Nonna's.  

Where do you go if you want to switch off?

Nao: Battersea Park. That park has everything: a riverside view, a lake, a good restaurant, bike hire, beautiful gardens and even fountains to refresh yourself during heatwaves (although I don't know if you’re officially allowed to do that). 

Where do you go to get inspired?

Nao: I visit The V&A collections on display. There are enough beautiful objects there to visit every week of your life and you'll always discover something new and amazing.

You can follow Wearers on Instagram here. And on Twitter here.


If you know of anyone that you think would make a good interview for our ‘Where do you go?’ series then let us know on Londoninbits@gmail.com.