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Borgo de Nor: London’s most vibrant fashion label

The Week UK logo The Week UK 11/29/2022 Alexandra Zagalsky
Borgo De Nor feather fringed separates © Provided by The Week UK Borgo De Nor feather fringed separates

The founders have revealed their first autumn/winter collection

In 2017, Carmen Borgonovo and Joana de Noronha founded their London-based label, Borgo de Nor, revitalising fashion rails with their bold and brightly printed dresses that effortlessly combine soft femininity with a sense of audacious elegance. 

Five years on and their fundamental muse remains the boundary-breaking female creative: women like Frida Kahlo, Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington and Hilma af Klint whose strength and self-possession was a magnetic force that has shown itself to be timelessly compelling.

How Borgonovo (now creative director) and de Noronha (who serves as commercial director) translated this feeling into fabric is down to their own cultural roots and career backgrounds. Both are fashion industry veterans who share a mutual love of travel and style. Borgonovo, who is originally from El Salvador, is a former fashion director, while de Noronha  who hails from Portugal, cut her teeth as a luxury wholesaler.

Borgo De Nor AW22/23 © Provided by The Week UK Borgo De Nor AW22/23

Firm friends already, the duo clicked when it came to their entrepreneurial vision, mutually driven by a desire to harness a sense of daring, power and sophistication in female fashion. Now sold at Net-a-Porter and Matches, Borgo de Nor has slowly and stealthily claimed its place on the luxury retail scene. In fact, this year marks the first time that the pair has launched an autumn/winter collection, inspired by the louche and carefree attitude of their most beloved icons of the 1970s and 1980s, among them Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Inès de La Fressange and Bianca Jagger. It’s certainly an eclectic mix, but one that instantly makes sense when you see this collection of silky and sensuous pieces, many finessed with feathered hems. 

As always, Borgo de Nor’s stand-out prints have their own commanding presence: AW22/23 has all the verve of summer, though the cooler months signal added fire and depth thanks to exotic floral blooms and bohemian paisley shapes that contrast rich emerald, sapphire and ruby tones with delicate hues of gum pink, baby blue and lime green.

The one shouldered Aubrey dress (below) – cut from cream coloured crepe with a vibrant jungle print, and designed with a single billowing sleeve finished with a feathered trim – perfectly captures the iconically lavish days of Studio 54.

Borgo De Nor AW22/23 © Provided by The Week UK Borgo De Nor AW22/23

“Working through the pandemic was intense, but it made us a little more focused,” Borgonovo said during our interview over Zoom. “It made us realise that as a team, we are so passionate about what we do and that we were ready for a new challenge. We have always spoken of the ‘Borgo Woman’ and every dress or look has a specific character that fits into this wider narrative of femininity.” 

“I would also say that our ‘Borgo Woman’ has greatly evolved with us,” de Noronha added. “Each time we launch a new category – separates, skirts, swimwear – our clients, stockists and wholesalers have been behind us, because we have moved carefully and intricately into these new areas of design.” 

The friends and business partners maintain that they rarely lock horns when it comes to finalising production. “It’s always so interesting for me to receive commercial feedback from Joana,” Borgonovo explained. “It became clear to her last season that we needed an AW collection, so I just pushed forward with the design even though time was quite stretched. I wanted our Borgo Woman to be a bit sexier this time. I felt that after all the lockdowns, there was a real desire to celebrate, to see our friends and family again. I wanted to capture the joy of dressing up. The feathers and the paisleys point to the exuberance of the ’70s and the disco age. Our patterns are still big and bold but the chinoiserie, for example, has a more wintery spin to it, which I love. Cosy and comfortable glamour is really a thing for me.”

Borgo De Nor AW22/23 © Provided by The Week UK Borgo De Nor AW22/23

“As we grow and scale the brand, we listen to the feedback we get from retail agents very carefully,” de Noronha said. “You learn that the bulk of it needs to be a certain price point, then there has to be a [number] of pieces that are much more elevated, then some that are [priced at] entry level. Finding that structure is the challenge, but it’s also very gratifying.”

Arguably, the smartest aspect of the Borgo de Nor proposition is that it isn’t age discriminatory, as Borgonovo explained. “We see the Borgo Woman as ageless, able to shop with us in her early 20s all the way up to her 70s,” she said. “I design for the chic older woman, but equally, I have to satisfy the more carefree 20-year-old, as well as the career woman in her 30s or 40s, who is able to afford more aspirational things. It’s a bit like fitting a puzzle together when I am designing, but it’s important that we maintain our position as an all-encompassing ageless brand, and one that is also seasonal-less, because our new collection will take you through spring and summer. I think this places in a unique position in the luxury space.”

Also key to Borgo de Nor’s success is creating niche collections and collaborative projects that convey an impactful message within the luxury context. For example, the label’s 2021 Muses collection showcased long romantic gowns crafted from leftover fabric. Borgo de Nor’s 2022 resort T-shirt collection was a joint venture with non-profit organisation Glasswing International which supports young girls in El Salvador. The duo also work with Smartworks, a charity that helps women in need to regain employment.

Borgo De Nor AW22/23 © Provided by The Week UK Borgo De Nor AW22/23

“We understand the power of the dress,” de Noronha said. “How clothes can make you feel confident, so when you are not wearing something you feel good in, that can deeply affect your ability to shine in an interview. Muses [the collection] was a great way to help by donating proceeds of each online sale to the charity. We also donated stock – not so much tropical prints – but more conservative pieces that could work in a professional setting.”

So what does the future hold for this bright and exuberant brand? It sounds like the duo are happy to follow a long and winding path towards expansion, in line with a “slow fashion” sentiment, carefully and sustainably considering the processes and resources required to make clothing. 

“We are a very small team, so we have to be flexible,” Borgonovo said. “That’s the nature of a young company. When we started the business, we felt it was important to always capture a sense of newness, but soon we realised that our best-selling styles were popular for a reason, and those silhouettes are now back. We’ve learnt that innovation can work in tandem with consistency and the thoughtful retelling of design.

“Sometimes women stop me in the street to compliment me on my dress. I used to feel shy about saying it was an own-label piece, but now I enjoy it. Basically, any woman regardless of age, shape and style stands out beautifully and will be noticed in Borgo de Nor.”

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