Catalan Fashion, An Industry With Expansion Stitched Up

Catalan Fashion

Catalan Fashion

Pertegaz, Antonio, Miró, Rosa Clará, Javier Simorra, Custo Barcelona, Desigual, Mango. These are just a few designers whose pieces of clothing can be visited at the Catalan Delegation in Brussels until the end of June. The exhibition shows a retrospective of how Catalonia has become the scenario of the Haute Couture and Prêt-à-Porter. 

The exhibition is based on the material from the Antoni de Montpalau Textile Collection, a private initiative launched in 2004 in the city of Sabadell (Barcelona) that consists of over 5,000 pieces mainly donated.

This is the second public display of pieces of clothing and other items that show the changes in taste, design, and trends from haute couture to prêt-à-porter fashion in the last seven decades in Catalonia, and mainly in its capital, Barcelona.

Fashion in Catalonia has become an industry in continuous expansion.  The numbers speak for themselves: 2,000 enterprises work entirely for fashion in Catalonia, with almost 200,000 employers, the industry achieved last year a turnover of 12.730 million euro, a 4,5 of PIB.

In this short but accurate exhibition, the visitor will travel from the origins of haute couture in Catalonia to the prêt-a-porter of nowadays. In the late XIXth century, great Catalan fashion designers started to pay close attention to what was being developed in Paris at the time, learning, and observing what was going on in the Fashion capital. Further, Jeanne Lanvin, the French famous designer started learning the profession of dressmaker in Barcelona.

Yet Barcelona Fashion began to take off when the Spanish fashion designer Pedro Rodríguez opened his first store in Barcelona in 1919, the following year, Lanvin opened a branch in Rambla de Catalunya Street, the meeting point of the Haute Couture in the city.

The 1920s saw the burgeoning of a genuinely Catalan Fashion, with several textile warehouses such as Santa Eulalia, El Dique Flotante and La física beginning to offer haute couture pieces, and Rodriguez consolidating himself as the Spanish leading fashion designer of the time, together with Balenciaga.

The direct link with Paris and, above all, the great Catalan textile industry enabled the regional fashion to gain a hegemonic position within Spain. This pre-eminence was further strengthened by the local embroidery industries, by the efforts of the local industrial schools and by the work of the couturiers themselves.

Barcelona fashion started to become ripe with the organisation of several fashion shows during the Spanish Second Republic (1931-1936). The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) brought this burgeoning process to a rude halt, and some fashion stores closed.

Eventually, the badly needed expansion of the haute couture sector resumed again during the post-War years, and in 1940 the so-called Cinco Grandes (The Five Great fashion designers), namely Pedro Rodriguez, Manuel Pertegaz, Asunción Bastida, Santa Eulalia and El Dique Flotante appeared. This Cooperative obtained the support from the Spanish Government, a Military Dictatorship (1939-1975), which was in search of signs of identity, and normality, that could be exported abroad.

The 1970s marked the expansion of the Prêt-à-Porter fashion and the end of the Haute Couture hegemony, although this concept dates back to the 1930s. Several fashion firms started to offer collections of ‘ready-to-wear’ pieces of clothing, following a trend initiated some time earlier by the large textile warehouses.

New designers and brands have continued to emerge ever since, over this entire period, Barcelona has been the catalyst for fashion and has become an international benchmark. As an illustrative example, various trade exhibitions and fashion shows have been going on in the past years, from the Cotton Week, to Gaudí Woman, Gaudí Brides, the Bread and Butter and the most international event, 080 Barcelona.

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