The arabesque exoticism of the Alhambra has always been interesting for the magazine Vogue. In 1958, its French edition published an eight-page report made inside the monument in Granada with French fashions by Givenchy, Balmain and Maggy Rouff and photographs of the American Henry Clarke. Just a decade later, the same photographer was given a similar assignment, a new shoot with the same backdrop for the US edition of the publication. At the time, the objective was to show Spanish fashion through some of the haute couture stylists reigning of the moment: dresses by Manuel Pertegaz, Elio Berhanyer, Pedro Rovira and Carmen Mir were chosen by Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones and editor of the magazine in Madrid. By the way, she didn’t choose Cristóbal Balenciaga, despite the fact that the designer was at a good point in his career and that she herself had worn one of his dresses at her wedding.
“This year’s Spanish collections are exciting, with superb cuts, purely tailored coats, lively shapes and good seams. visual at night in black and with glitter. All photographed at the Alhambra in Granada”. So began that report for the October 1968 issue of Vogueentitled Spain’s special style for tailored days, bright nights (Spain’s special style for formal days and glittering evenings, in Spanish). This photo session was held in January with the following season’s winter clothes. Given the travel costs, the production team included a single model. More than half a century later, these lines fit perfectly with Henry Clarke and Spanish fashion under the influence of the Alhambra, an exhibition that can be visited until June 4 at the Palace of Carlos V. In addition to portraying the monument in Granada, the exhibition takes a tour of the Spanish fashion of the moment ―not forgetting Balenciaga― through 60 suits by these great designers. Of course, it is also a tour of the influence of the Alhambreño space on artistic creation.
The first seam in this exhibition is given by an Alhambra worker, Cristina Garcés, who comes across that reportage. From then on, Eloy Martínez de la Pera, curator of the exhibition, is the one who weaves the plot of this exhibition, which goes beyond that publication. As Rocío Díaz, director of the monument, explains, “the Alhambra opens up to new exhibition themes. It is a determined commitment to producing exhibitions with universal languages that attract new audiences to the monument in Granada”. It is a question, continues the director, of showing the monument’s ability to inspire disparate creative fields, whether writers, painters, photographers or, as now, people from the fashion industry.
The visit to the chapel and crypt of the Palace of Carlos V, the space that hosts this free exhibition, becomes a somewhat labyrinthine journey in half-light, full of games of reflections and mirrors. In their trajectory, the pieces of the great haute couture of Spain from the 50s and 70s show a fashion that certainly no longer exists and will not return. It is a walk between evening dresses and wedding dresses or coats made with the best fabrics, sometimes pure fantasy, sometimes pure sobriety that, in many cases, would be much less lucid without the resource of geometry or artisanal ornamentation based on rhinestones or lace that they wear.
There are up to 60 dresses by Balenciaga, Pedregaz, Pedro Rodríguez, Elio Berhanyer or Pedro Rovira on an Alhambria catwalk that would be incomplete without the contribution of three stylists as fundamental as they are forgotten: Carmen Mir, Flora Villarreal and Asunción Bastida. The exhibition, explains Martínez de la Pera, “claims the work of these seamstresses who had their pieces in the big windows of New York and who appeared in the best international fashion magazines”. They were not, however, able to build a brand and, with his death, his name and designs fell into oblivion. In fact, from that time, “only Pertegaz and Balenciaga survived their inventors”, clarifies the curator. The Alhambra recovers them even if fleetingly.
A tribute to a peak moment in Spanish fashion
Henry Clarke and Spanish fashion under the influence of the Alhambra, explains the curator, was put together without the original costumes used in that session. They were impossible to find because they were sold and there is no way to trace their current fate, if any. This enriches the show because, finally, it made it possible to show dresses from the same published collections or with very similar cuts at the Alhambra. The tour goes, on the other hand, beyond the mere exhibition of these great textile works. It is a tour in which the dresses are in constant dialogue with the craftsmanship and geometry of the Alhambra, a delight for the eyes. The visit is punctuated by plasters, tiles or photos ―even a painting-sculpture by Manuel Rivera from Granada, creator of the artistic collective El Paso― with geometric figures in perfect harmony with the dresses on display.
The exhibition begins with Henry Clarke, but is ultimately a tribute to a peak moment in Spanish fashion. It is a fashion that, in the sixties, experienced what stylist Lorenzo Caprile calls in his contribution to the exhibition catalog an “explosion of talent” that allowed him to “gain a foothold in the international market”. “It was exhibited and distributed in the United States and Europe, and was in serious competition with France, the biggest seller of high fashion at the time. For international buyers, Spain was a very attractive country, as they could purchase, for a very low price compared to France, Italy or the United States, clothes of even higher quality than those sold in Paris ateliers”, he explains.
Talent is seen in Alhambra walkwaywith some scenes especially Delicatessen. For example, the last two. Downstairs, in the crypt of the chapel that Charles V had built on his honeymoon trip to Granada, the photographs from the report of Vogue. And next to them, some heritage pieces from the Alhambra and five dresses: two creations by Elio Berhanyer ―one for a party in grains of Naples in navy blue cotton decorated with suns arranged in a checkerboard pattern and another for the evening in silk crepe covered with sequins , plastic — and three by Pertegaz —, a wedding dress and two party dresses in embroidered organdy with cotton bows throughout. They compose the latest and best possible sewing for this exhibition that recalls forgotten moments of Spanish fashion and how nasrid beauty can be combined with any artistic expression.