1940 - 1976

Pedro Rodríguez: Haute Couture on Paper

Museo del Traje. CIPE

Take a closer look at the boundless talent of the Valencian designer with this collection of sketch figures that make up his graphic work.

Pedro Rodríguez: Haute Couture on Paper
This exhibition by the Museo del Traje (CIPE) in Madrid, displays the graphic work of the Spanish couturier Pedro Rodríguez (Valencia 1895 – Barcelona 1990). It aims to show the work of the master couturier through the Museum's collection of sketches, photographs and press cuttings. Through this work, not only can we study his creative process, which began by modeling the fabric on a live mannequin, using nothing more than a few pins and a pair of scissors, but we can also see how this designer evolved over his sixty-year career.

Pedro Rodríguez opened his fashion house in Barcelona in 1919. It was the first in Spain to follow the guidelines of the haute couture trade association in Paris: to present full collections on live mannequins in their own elegantly decorated showrooms and made entirely in their own workshops. In 1940, he was one of the instigators of the Haute Couture Cooperative in Barcelona and held the position of president until his death. He was also one of the people responsible for promoting Spanish fashion around the world in the 1950s and 60s, —its golden era. He served an endless list of Spanish and foreign customers, including aristocrats, ladies from the upper bourgeoisie, American millionairesses and Hollywood actresses.

The 1940s
On October 13, 1939, the Pedro Rodríguez label opened its Madrid showrooms, following those in Barcelona in 1919 and San Sebastian in 1937. This was a time when Spain found itself isolated both politically and economically, and the work of Spanish designers was very difficult. They had neither the material resources to do their work nor examples from abroad, since most of the Paris workshops had also closed their doors during the German occupation. That is why fashion during this time is characterized by its austerity and the influence of military uniforms, with prominent shoulders in contrast with very narrow waists. By the end of the decade, economic recovery and new Parisian trends of the “New Look” lay the foundations for a new, more feminine and sophisticated style, which heralded the golden era of haute couture.

Sketch - evening gown
Pedro Rodriguez, 1945-1946

Fully-draped evening dress, showing Pedro Rodríguez’s extraordinary mastery of this technique—one of his great specialties.

Cocktail dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1948

Cocktail dress with the “New Look” influence of a wide, flowing skirt made from lace fabric, a sample of which is stapled to the left of the sketch.

Sketch, dress and bolero ensemble
Pedro Rodriguez, 1945

Morning shirt dress in the style of the decade—an austere fashion influenced by the war, which plays with color combinations to create a discreet and elegant outfit.

Sketch, sport ensemble
Pedro Rodriguez, 1943

This type of figure sketched in pencil provided the basis for the work of haute couture workshops. In addition to the design, they also indicated which fabric would be used to make each model.

Tailored Suits and Coats
Pedro Rodríguez began training in Barcelona at the age of ten, when the future designer went to work as an apprentice at the Trullás tailors, while studying at night. He then moved to Villalta tailors before joining Rabasseda, which also had a line of ladies’ clothes. His training as a tailor helped him perfect the technique of making two-piece suits and coats. He used the best quality fabrics and designed classic, elegant, feminine, and timeless ladies’ clothes, which he was able to adapt in line with the many social changes that took place over his sixty-year professional career. This is why, after the 1960s, many of these suits became pant suits to meet the needs of modern women, who had been integrated into the working world en masse.

Sketch, coat
Pedro Rodriguez, 1945

V-shaped coat—a trend in the first half of the 1940s, characterized by big shoulder pads and a very narrow waistline.

Sketch, suit, "Mikado" line
Pedro Rodriguez, 1955

Tailored suits were basic items in the female wardrobe for everyday activities. They were one of the couturier’s signature items due to the expert cut he learned as a tailor.

Sketch, cloak
Pedro Rodriguez, 1965

Practically in every collection of the house appears a cloak, a piece that reflects the important influence of traditional Spanish clothing in the work of Pedro Rodriguez

Sketch, suit
Pedro Rodriguez, 1970

The year 1970 was a time of conflict over the length of the skirt—“mini” or “midi”—which is why Pedro Rodríguez masterfully combined both in this two-piece suit.

The 1950s
In the 1950s, Pedro Rodríguez’s work started to draw attention from abroad, particularly the United States, expanding both his national and international clientele. In 1953, he designed a collection of evening dresses, inspired by the old masters of Spanish painting, for the Franklin Simon department stores of New York. At that time, Spain’s fashion houses presented four collections a year: spring-summer in March, full summer in May, fall-winter in September and party dresses in December. There were models for every hour of the day: tailored suits and dresses for the morning, cocktail dresses for social events in the afternoon and gowns for evening functions, together with casual outfits for the home, or for sporting and leisure activities, where pants were an essential component.

Sketch, evening gown
Pedro Rodriguez, 1953

Princess-style evening dress, characterized by a full skirt and narrow waist. Skirts decorated with long braids ending in tassels and fringes were one of the novelties of that season.

Sketch, cocktail dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1957

The cocktail dress was an essential item in the female wardrobe for social events held between tea-time and dinner, just as dressy as evening wear but shorter.

Sketch, dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1954

Fabrics such as this semi-transparent silk were the basis of the couturier’s creative process, and he designed his models on live mannequins.

Sketch, sport ensemble, "Mikado" line
Pedro Rodriguez, 1955

The female wardrobe in the golden age of haute couture consisted of outfits for each activity and every time of day, which is why 200 models were designed for each collection on average.

Lines
The 1950s were perhaps the most creative years for Pedro Rodríguez. Like the French couturiers, he too would present his collections based around themes. In his spring-summer collection of 1953, he presented the “Campanula” and “Swallow at rest” lines; in the 1954 spring-summer collection, the “Horseshoe” line; in the 1954-55 fall-winter collection, the “Firefly” and “Amaterasu” lines; in spring-summer 1955, the “Mikado” line—the most successful of his career, which would be repeated in the 1955-56 fall-winter collection; and, in fall-winter 1956-57, the “Butterfly” line. He also presented models around the “Sack” and “Trapezium” lines in 1958, although these were created by Balenciaga and Yves Saint-Laurent respectively.

Sketch, cocktail dress, "Campanula" line
Pedro Rodriguez, 1953

The “Campanula” line, which imitated the flower of that name in an inverted position, is a variation of the “mermaid” look and was used in cocktail and evening dresses for this 1953 spring-summer collection.

Sketch, evening gown, "Amaterasu" line
Pedro Rodriguez, 1954

The models in the “Amaterasu” line, with its Eastern influences, are characterized by a long train running down the back, attached in one place at the bottom, before sweeping down to the floor.

Sketch, cocktail ensemble, "Mikado" line
Pedro Rodriguez, 1955

The “Mikado” line displays Pedro Rodríguez’s fascination with Eastern cultures, and particularly the Chinese and Japanese, drawing inspiration from them to create his different collections.

Sketch, evening gown, "Butterfly" line
Pedro Rodriguez, 1956

The “Butterfly” line is characterized by a large bow on the back of the model, imitating the wings of the insect, with head dresses resembling the butterfly’s antennae to complete the look.

The 1960s
The 1960s marked his true arrival on the international scene. Trips to the United States multiplied and the Asian market opened up with fashion shows in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. His models continued to triumph with their timeless elegance, rich fabrics, gemstone embroideries and technical perfection, particularly in draping. Around 1968, however, something changed. Young fashion emerged and so began the prêt-à-porter era. While Pedro Rodríguez changed with the times, his designs did not lose their essence. He even lashed out against British designers, branding them as childish and claiming that “showing the knee is not elegant”, which is why his style was youthful but not brazen. This marked the beginning of the end of haute couture.

Sketch, evening gown
Pedro Rodriguez, 1963

This model, entirely in black lace, was presented at various fashion shows in cities around the United States in the spring of 1963. It had a significant impact in the US press.

Sketch, cocktail dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1965

Hats, gloves and shoes were essential accessories for cocktail dresses, and all were designed and made in the label’s workshops.

Sketch, dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1965

The fashion creations of the 1960s are characterized by simpler lines and high-quality fabrics—one of the basic elements of Pedro Rodríguez’s creative process.

Sketch, sport ensemble
Pedro Rodriguez, 1968

The events of May 1968 represented a generational shift which, in the world of fashion, led to the creation of a style aimed at a younger public, as this sports outfit shows.

Bridal Wear
In the 1950s, the three most important dresses in a woman’s life in Spain were their first communion dress, their debutante dress and their wedding dress. Pedro Rodríguez’s graphic portfolio contains a very large collection of figures in bridal gowns, from the 1940s through to the end of the 1970s, tracing perfectly how female fashion changed over the period. The bridal dress was an important garment for the fashion house as many of the women who had their wedding dresses made by the designer were not likely to have been regular customers, but could allow themselves the luxury of “a Pedro Rodríguez” on their wedding day.

Sketch, wedding dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1945

The price of the dress—7,000 pesetas—is written on the sketch, and in 1945 this would have been an amount that only a limited clientele with substantial purchasing power could afford.

Sketch, wedding dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1956

This model leaves no doubt about the influence of traditional Spanish dress on Pedro Rodríguez, with this interpretation of the Flamenco-style “bata de cola” gown in a wedding dress.

Sketch, wedding dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1962

The simpler lines of the 1960s and masterful draping define the style of this bridal gown, which plays with the changes in direction of the draping as the garment’s only adornment.

Sketch, wedding dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1968

Wedding dress with a youthful line and a classic touch: lacy frills that shape the body, and another more relaxed look, with a headdress which has flowers stitched onto a ribbon and fastens at the neck.

The 1970s
In September 1969, Pedro Rodríguez celebrated his golden anniversary in haute couture, knowing that this was the end of an era. The designer was aware that the crisis in haute couture was not solely the result of economic difficulties. Modern life, with the mass integration of women into the workplace, gave them a preference for boutique stores where they could buy something immediately. They had no time for the two or three fittings required for an haute couture outfit. In 1970, he therefore opened a prêt-à-porter section. In these later years, Pedro Rodríguez’s collections picked up the young fashion trends but without falling into what he called “eccentricities”. He also showed some models from the “Adlib” line in Ibiza in 1973, but his luck was running out. He closed his showrooms in Madrid in 1978, and in Barcelona in 1979. That was the end of the label.

Sketch, evening gown
Pedro Rodriguez, 1975

The gemstone embroideries were one of the label's greatest trademarks, particularly on evening wear, as can be seen here, where the embroidery outlines the movement of the model.

Sketch, cocktail dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1970

Lace was one of Pedro Rodríguez’s favorite materials, as seen in this cocktail dress—another sample of how traditional Spanish dress influenced his career.

Sketch, dress
Pedro Rodriguez, 1972

The miniskirt was not a garment that Pedro Rodríguez liked. He even went as far as to say that “showing the knee is not elegant”. Even so, he managed to adapt to the demands of his younger clientele.

Sketch, coat
Pedro Rodriguez, 1975

1975 saw the arrival of the midi skirt and checkered wool fabrics, such as this cape coat, which has a very classic style. It is a style which, in spite of the new trends, Pedro Rodríguez never abandoned.

Museo del Traje
Credits: Story

Pedro Rodríguez: Haute Couture on Paper

Curator: Paloma Calzadilla

Museo del Traje

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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