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Paul Porral | The Creative MiND Behind El Corte Inglés

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After spending almost 30 years of his career in London, British designer Paul Porral joined El Corte Inglés –the largest department store group in Europe– in February 2018 as its Executive Creative Director.

From his first experiences in design agencies such as Fitch, Imagination and Designhouse, to taking up the role of Head of Global Design at The Body Shop and Director Content & Design at John Lewis, Paul’s challenge at El Corte Inglés is now to “reenergize the brand and transform it, without losing its Spanish heart”.

MiND had the pleasure of meeting Paul Porral at El Corte Inglés headquarters in Madrid and spoke with him about his background and vision for department stores in Spain.

Paul Porral, Executive Creative Director at El Corte Inglés.

Having being educated in the UK and living in London, Paul Porral has family in Spain and has always had one foot in the other side of the channel, which probably explains why he loves being in Madrid now. Despite going to art school, Paul said he learned the most by working at design agencies –essentially, he learned on the job.

Having worked in the London design industry from the beginning, Paul joined an agency –Fitch– in the late 80s, which is when the design retail revolution began in Great Britain. They worked on projects all around the world –including the Chinese Gallery V&A, where Paul learned about large scale communication and spaces.

“For me, design agencies were the school of the British design industry.”

Entrance to Dinosaurs Gallery. The Natural History Museum London by Imagination, 1992.

Afterwards, he went to Imagination –a design agency which worked on projects from launching cars to creating the Dinosaur Gallery at London’s Natural History Museum. Ultimately, exhibition designing has to be an experience and it is very communication driven. “That gallery was quite theatrical, and it was also educational. Perhaps, a scene in the film Jurassic Park was a tiny bit inspired by our hanging of the dinosaur skeletons”, explained Paul Porral.

He then took his first in-house job as Head of Global Design for The Body Shop working on campaigns for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International and more. In the early 90s, the company had a different way of communicating with women, publishing campaigns about loving your body and not being stereotypical.

“The Body Shop was an amazing brand to work for with creative freedom and completely ahead of its time. The company’s rules were break the rules!”

The Body Shop Magazine Advert.

After a period as Creative Director at brand consultants Designhouse, where he developed brands for ABN AMRO Bank among others, John Lewis caught Paul’s interest, as one of the largest department stores in the UK. He would go on to work at John Lewis in London for 10 years, holding the position of Director Content & Design while doing the rebrand with Pentagram and developing a strong passion for the in-house world.

This passion then led him to join El Corte Inglés in February 2018. Taking everything that he knew about branding from his experiences at the design agencies, Paul found himself applying it to El Corte Inglés. He shared with us the great opportunity he had to work for department stores, underlining that “you have to apply what you’ve learned before to the new situation and be open-minded to learn more. The in-house is a different experience, it’s not about just knowing what to do, it’s about doing it, you have to lead change.”

“Now my new challenge is to bring everything I learned during my previous experiences to El Corte Inglés.”

John Lewis & Partners rebrand 2018 by Pentagram.

When we asked the secret to really “changing” a department store such as El Corte Inglés, Paul specified “you must be there, because you have to keep on top of that change every single day. To do that you have to understand the culture and what people really care about. A brand like El Corte Inglés, to which lots of Spanish families are linked, needs to be reenergized.” The challenge is now to transform the brand without losing its iconic Spanish heart and renew its authentic values.

“Coming from England where everything is so branded, it’s lovely to live in Spain and see so many independent and local business.”

According to the Creative Director, many department stores have become very premium, very exclusive and luxury, but not that exciting. “They’re like big airports where you’ve got one luxury store next to the other. The investment in design and the quality of the experience is extraordinary. But that is just one model. I don’t think that would work for us.” El Corte Inglés has got a lot to do with service, trust and ease. It involves brands who sell products from lottery tickets to newspapers, right through to a luxury handbag. It’s very inclusive.

El Corte Inglés Spring Fashion Campaign, 2019, by Van Mossevelde.

Whilst discussing innovation and technology, Paul Porral talked about the experience at El Corte Inglés. Of course, technology is at the forefront of everything today and will continue to be as we move forward. However, human engagement is still an important factor. “Innovation is about supplying a need to how people live their lives now and in the future. Innovation has to be linked to who you are and what your customer wants. It has to be about something that is rewarding for people or helping them.”

“Innovation is a way of thinking, it’s about people being challenged to think beyond what they do every day and then have a culture which is open enough to accept their ideas.”

El Corte Inglés Summer Fashion Campaign, 2019, by Van Mossevelde.

When we asked Paul the most important thing he learned during his career he explained that is “to listen and make people understand what your idea is. Designers and creative people need to remember that if they want their ideas adopted and to really have an effect, they’ve got to remember who they are talking to and make people understand why certain things matter.”

We at MiND really appreciated the opportunity to get to know the creative mind behind El Corte Inglés and we wish Paul Porral good luck with his new adventure in Spain!

Cover photo: Paul Porral and his team on location shoot with director Damien Krisl, 2019.
Interview by: Lisa Zanon