With an exuberant style that evokes Andy Warhol and Pedro Almodóvar, Spanish designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada puts fuchsia hearts, flowers and dots on everything from dresses and teacups to restaurants and wine labels. Here's how she lives, eats and entertains.
When did you first know you wanted to be a designer?
My dad was a contemporary art collector, so I wanted to be a painter when I was little. But when I was 15, I decided being a fashion designer was easier. You can be a very good fashion designer, but after Pablo Picasso, it's very hard to be a great painter. Art has been an important influence on my work. For me, one of the most interesting artistic schools is American Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s and then Pop Art in the '60s. Mark Rothko has always been one of my favorite artists. Also Andy Warhol; I met him when he came to Spain.
What was your first fashion collection like?
My first collection was launched in 1981, during la movida—it was after Franco died and we had a period of freedom. There was a lot of cultural growth, when people like the film director Pedro Almodóvar thrived. That first collection was very colorful, which is what I'm still doing now.
How did you expand your business?
In the beginning, I really wanted to work for others; I never wanted to work for myself. That is why I have done projects for so many different companies—60 or 70, including Swatch and Motorola, and I just did a car for Citroën. But because I have my own particular style, I needed to have my own business. So I have shops everywhere—Milan, Paris, Barcelona, and I just opened one in New York (135 Wooster St.; 212-598-4078 or agatharuizdelaprada.com)—but they are not important to me. They are just a way to give someone a sense of my brand image.
When did you start designing plates and other items for the table?
I designed my first plates 16 or 17 years ago and they are still on the market. I have also made custom plates for two of the best restaurants in Spain, El Bulli and Arzak, and I have designed two restaurants—Medas in the Transmediterránea building in Barcelona (Moll San Bertran; 011-34-93-443-0177) and Pasta Pula, a casual restaurant at Pula Golf, a country club on Mallorca. When I design a restaurant, I do everything from the floors to the lamps to the plates, even the graphic design of the menus. I also worked on Bellota-Bellota, a shop and café in Paris that sells Spanish products like ham, which they serve in the simple Spanish way, on bread with tomato. I designed the paper sleeves the ham is served in and the uniforms for the staff (18 Rue Jean Nicot, 7th Arr.; 011-33-1-539-9696). A few years ago, Café de la Paix in Paris asked me to design a dessert, so I reinterpreted their classic mille-feuilles with layers of chocolate, strawberry and mango mousse. I was the first designer they asked to do this.
Living with Pedro Ramirez, the editor of El Mundo, one of Spain's largest newspapers, you must have an interesting life.
We have dinner with people who are in the news, three to four times a week. It's wonderful to be surrounded by this—by the president of Spain, Nobel Prize winners, people who are involved in what's going on in politics, even if I don't like politics. Pedro is very respectful of my designs. So I can paint the house pink one day, and he's okay with that. We have two children, live together, do everything like a conventional married couple, but we are not married and have not signed anything, so we have a little sensation of freedom. We have an 18-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl and they're in school in London. I used to spend a lot of time in Paris, so I saw them often. We're a very European family. It is a life that is not very quiet, but it's very interesting.
Where do you entertain the most?
I entertain a lot during the summer because we spend the whole season in Mallorca. I think food is very important, but I don't know how to cook, which is a pity. I had a wonderful cook, but he recently retired, so I just found the cook who worked in my parents' house before I was born. In Spain, these sorts of miracles happen. For seven and a half years, I used to have a party every Thursday night in my studio. We'd have 50 or 100 or 300 people. Now, at my house, I give dinners for a maximum of 15 people. Otherwise, if it's too big, you can't really have a conversation.
How do you incorporate your designs into entertaining?
When I throw a party, everything has to be Agatha or as Agatha as possible. I don't understand when designers like Yves Saint Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld are doing something modern on the runway and then you go to their homes or offices and it is like seeing something from 200 years ago. If you do avant-garde design, you must live in avant-garde design; even your plates must be avant-garde.
How has the food in Spain changed over the years?
In Spain today there is a big obsession with food. A hundred years ago, being obsessed with food was a middle-class and lower-class thing; the Duchess of Alba didn't care about food. But now, we have Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, and he's one of the best cooks in the world. We have a big intellectual relationship with food.
What's your favorite city and where do you like to eat there?
Milan. I think the Italian people are the nicest and have so much character. Italian design is the best in the world and the food is fantastic. Alla Cucina delle Langhe is a typical trattoria near my Milan boutique; its risotto and cotoletta alla Milanese—a breaded, fried veal cutlet—are the best in the city (6 Corso Como; 011-39-02-655-42-79). Paper Moon has the best pizza and is in the heart of the shopping district. Famous locals go there, as do tourists, and I like the simple architecture (1 Via Bagutta; 011-39-02-760-222-97).
What projects make you the proudest?
Last year, I designed the sets and costumes for the opera Don Giovanni by Mozart and also for a kids' production, Puss in Boots. I love that about my job, that I can do so many different things.