Fashion in Spain: Contemporary Designers Making Their Mark

Half a century of Spanish fashion revealing the enormous potential of our most prominent creators.

Dress (2002/2002) by Amaya ArzuagaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

A Complete Transformation

Spanish fashion has seen a complete transformation over the last half century. In response to what was happening on the international scene, with the rise of prêt-à-porter clothes and the decline of haute couture, Spain’s national industry endeavored to keep up with the times.This improved public perception of Spanish fashion appears to be continuing into the 21st century. It could be described as more virtual than tangible.Online fashion has shattered all predictions, while new strategies take hold and must constantly adapt to changes in new technologies.

The power of opinion—and particularly bloggers in this context—can even prevail over reviews by the professional media, and fashion labels are forced to pay attention on all fronts.

Fashion design is no longer about making clothes. It means selling a style and image, creating a brand, making the right contacts, and being seen everywhere. It means convincing everyone that, amidst the deluge of options that surface each day, yours is the most valid—the one that best meets the needs of a public that is very alert to everything going on around them.

Image: A design by Burgos-born Amaya Arzuaga, 2013 National Fashion Award.

TELVA magazine cover (1965-09-15/1965-09-15)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Masters in Haute Couture

In the 1960s, bespoke tailoring was a mainstay of fashion. The designer Balenciaga was a steady source of inspiration for Spanish fashion houses, as he was for all French couturiers. Lino, Villarreal and Pedro Rodríguez—to name a few—were all prominent figures in haute couture, earning Spain its place in the world of fashion.

Dress (ca. 1964) by Cristobal BalenciagaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Cristobal Balenciaga, 1964

In Spain, Balenciaga sold his creations under his Eisa label, which was available in boutiques in San Sebastian (from 1919), Madrid (1933), and Barcelona (1935). Later, in 1936, he made the leap to Paris.

The designer was a steady source of inspiration for Spanish fashion houses, as he was for all French couturiers.

The apparent simplicity of this dress reveals traits that are typical of Balenciaga. Not only is it tight-fitting, the outline is formed of a structure that seems to be independent from the body it covers, as though were a separate piece of sculpture.

It was not in vain that Balenciaga once commented to Diana Vreeland, “A woman has no need to be perfect or even beautiful to wear my dresses; the dress will do all that for her.”

Top (1960/1960) by Flora VillarealMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Flora Villarreal, 1960

Villarreal was one of the most important fashion designers in Spain until she retired in 1968. Besides her creative talent, she found ways to buy patterns from the world’s leading international designers.

Skirt (1960/1960) by Flora VillarealMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Flora Villarreal, 1960

Understated skirt: another work by Flora Villarreal. Straight and black, it leaves the embroidery on the accompanying piece to take the limelight.

Dress (ca. 1960) by Pedro RodriguezMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Pedro Rodriguez, 1960

A dress by Pedro Rodríguez, which is shorter at the front as was the fashion in the 1960s.

The most eye-catching element is the wonderfully embroidered decoration on the skirt. Pedro Rodríguez’s skill in this work was unequaled.


Ama magazine cover (1971/1971)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Street Fashion

The 1970s marked the start of the expansion of large-scale fashion production. Garments from different boutiques found their way into the wardrobes of Spanish women, following a series of androgynous pieces from Yves Saint Laurent and the emergence of a design concept combining functionality with aesthetics.

Dress (1967/1967) by El Corte InglésMuseo del Traje, Madrid

El Corte Inglés, 1967

Through its subsidiary, Induyco (“Industrias y Confecciones”), the El Corte Inglés chain of stores has managed its own textile production for several decades, which it uses to complement its fashion sections in Spain and abroad.

As department stores became more established, Spain succumbed to the miniskirt in time with the legs of the Spanish actress and singer, Marisol. She was a living image of an entire generation of timidly rebellious youngsters. The skimpy garment was one of the most prolific symbols of liberalization of the political regime, although the psychedelic culture that inspired the print of this dress struggled to take hold in the country.

Dress (ca. 1970) by Coppelia Galerías PreciadosMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Galerías Preciados, 1970

The department store chain Galerías Preciados designed its own fashion lines, including long maxi dresses in the 1970s—a fashion that ended the dominance of the miniskirt.

Skirt (ca. 1968) by PulliganMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Pulligan, 1968

Pulligan is one of Spain’s most longstanding fashion brands. Image: Knitted skirt with geometric print. The label’s clothes prioritize comfort, but without ignoring modern aesthetic values.

¡HOLA! magazine cover (1976/1977)Museo del Traje, Madrid

A Bespoke Transition

With the unconditional support of the upper classes, who were bound to traditional values and noticeably distanced from the sweeping changes happening abroad, haute couture in Spain fought bitterly to remain in existence. In 1974, new legislation placing a heavy tax on luxury products killed off the country’s haute couture fashion houses. The number of customers diminished as the range of manufactured clothes diversified, and the upsurge in young fashion designers with fewer preconceptions about creating “ready-to-wear” clothes put an end to the hopes of a sector that had virtually come undone by 1978.

Dress (1970/1970) by IsauraMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Juliá Isaura, 1970

Over six decades, the designer Juliá Isaura dressed Madrid’s aristocracy, following a strict tradition of haute couture. Towards the end of her career, she took pride in never having lowered the level of her clientele, meaning her creations never lost their luxurious aire.

This dress, made in her later career, shows how the designer managed to incorporate the trends of the 1970s, such as nude tones and a tunic-style cut.

There is a touch of ostentation in the luxurious decoration at the bottom, with fringes that glisten with cut Swarovski crystals used in an original combination with white plastic beads.

Dress (ca. 1972) by Marbel JuniorMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Marbel Junior, 1972

The volumes of the Spanish monastic tradition and influence of the cape came together with very innovative results. Their shape is not so different from new Japanese architectural constructions, as Marbel Junior acknowledges in this design.

Vestirama magazine cover (1982/1982)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Pioneers of Prêt-à-Porter

We can trace various pioneering forays into prêt-à-porter production in Spain, including garments imported from Paris and Vienna by Santa Eulalia from 1909; sporty lines by El Dique Flotante in the 1920s and 30s; or—in closer alignment with the prêt-à-porter concept— the introduction of Jacques Heim’s Jeunes Filles line, produced by Asunción Bastida for Spain in the 1950s. However, there is no doubt that few people in Spain in the 1970s knew what “ready-to-wear” fashion was.

Dress (ca. 1973) by Elio BerhanyerMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Elio Berhanyer, 1973

This print dress was created by Elio Berhanyer—the master designer from Andalusia.

Dress (ca. 1972) by LoeweMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Loewe, 1972

The avant-garde design of this Loewe print follows the principles of casual Italian style, and is the result of beautiful tailoring.

Dress (ca. 1980) by Manuel PiñaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Manuel Piña, 1980

Manuel Piña’s experience with knitwear began well before his life as a designer. The architectural shape combines with the flexibility of the knitwear to achieve an original and comfortable design for the new executive female.

Sweater (1979/1979) by Francis MontesinosMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Francis Montesinos, 1979

This model reflects Montesinos’ taste for the texture of handmade knitwear. The fabric hugs the body perfectly, creating a daring, modern line.

Trapos con estilo magazine cover (1986/1986)Museo del Traje, Madrid

New Spanish Fashion

Designers such as Piña, Montesinos, and Adolfo Domínguez rose from being virtually anonymous in their work to the heights of celebrity. Young and not-so-young alike, all keen to express themselves freely but in keeping with modern codes, they immersed themselves eagerly in a carnival of form. Out in the streets, people (or some of them, at least) wanted design and originality without inhibition. Many talented creatives stepped back from the visual arts and looked to clothing and fashion, where they could combine art and design.

Blouse (1984/1984) by Sybilla SorondoMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Sybilla, 1984

The figure that best represented this period in Spain was Sybilla Sorondo Myelzwynska, creator of the Sybilla and Jocomomola labels. Her work made a significant contribution to contemporary fashion through its originality and technical perfection, which at times led critics to associate her work with that of Cristóbal Balenciaga.

This is an outfit for everyday wear, and is recognisable for its pleats and folds, particularly on the blouse. The ecru fabric is evocative of the monastic austerity of the Japanese designers that formed the avant-garde movement of the 1970s and 80s.

Jacket (1990/1990) by Agatha Ruiz de la PradaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, 1990

This outfit showcases the playful feel of Agatha Ruiz de la Prada designs. It is part of the “Tribute to Sean Scully” collection, presented in Osaka (Japan) in 1990.

T-shirt (1990/1990) by Agatha Ruiz de la PradaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Wide bell-bottomed pants
Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, 1990

Geometric abstractions are transferred onto a garment that is more like a pictorial textile than something to wear. Rather than appealing to a sense of volume, it seeks to resemble a two-dimensional picture.

Cute (1981/1981) by Sara NavarroMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Sara Navarro, 1981

In the 1980s, Sara Navarro—best known for her contribution to footwear—started showing clothes crafted from the same materials she used for her shoes. Fabulous materials and impeccable tailoring in extremely comfortable clothes.

Coat (1988/1988) by Modesto Lomba and José Luis DevotaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Modesto Lomba and José Luis Devota, 1988

This beautiful coat by Devota & Lomba—a prelude to the minimalism of the 1990s—creates a design notable for its architectural influence. It won the Ama Prize for young designers with its debut on the Cibeles catwalk.

Lecturas magazine cover (1992/1992)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Standing Strong

The 1990s saw a transition from exuberance to stability on the fashion catwalks. The Ministry of Industry looked to launch Spanish fashion around the world as a symbol of modernity, and part of that plan was to create the Cibeles fashion show. All this backing, coupled with a strong advertising campaign, created the feeling that this was a very special moment in Spanish fashion; that is was beginning to shine and could confidently rub shoulders with other international fashion capitals.

Dress (2002/2002) by Angel SchlesserMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Angel Schlesser, 2002

In the mid-80s, Schlesser was a name that would become synonymous with elegance and femininity on Spanish catwalks in the 1990s. With a hint of minimalism, subtle decoration and real sensuality, the designer immediately became one of the most popular of the new generation.

This dress takes us back to the “little black dress” that Chanel created in the mid-1920s, considered to be the essence of minimalism. It is made from two layers of chiffon, with the inner layer clinging to the body and the outer layer embroidered to accentuate the effect of transparency.

Cape (ca. 1998) by Fernando LemoniezMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Fernando Lemoniez, 1998

This piece, by Fernando Lemoniez, symbolizes the continuity of haute couture. Inspired by Zurbaranesque habits, which are a paradigm of Spanish painting, it transforms into an elegant cape made of the best quality wool, and hangs beautifully.

Jacket (1994/1994) by Roberto VerinoMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Roberto Verino, 1994

This outfit, which won Roberto Verino the T de Telva Award for Spanish design, is an example of the label’s more understated style. The use of polyester makes it lighter and free of wrinkles, and so more comfortable to wear.

Dress (ca. 1998) by Custo DalmauMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Custo Dalmau, 1998

This design combines many of the characteristics of Custodio Dalmau’s designs. Comfortable materials and prints reflect the aesthetic eclecticism of the new decade ahead.

Magazine cover (2001-10-14/2001-10-14)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Designs for a New Century

The 21st century is seeing past experience put into practice to find new artistic, commercial, and industrial solutions. This section features models from some of the most famous designers of recent years.

Dress (2009/2009) by Amaya ArzuagaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Amaya Arzuaga, 2009

Burgos-born Amaya Arzuaga will go down in history as the first Spanish designer to present her prêt-à-porter collection at London Fashion Week in 1997, shortly after her career began. This speaks to the Spanish designer’s renowned vocation for the avant-garde, meshing with deconstructive trends from Japan which were then taken up in Europe by the Belgians and the Dutch.

More classic than on other occasions, here Arzuaga presents a simple stretch minidress adding a touch of personality with a neck made from pieces of overlaid cloth. Even here, the constant avoidance of symmetry and the almost religious value that the color black holds for this designer can be seen.

Dress (2000/2000) by Armand BasiMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Armand Bassi, 2000

Daphne dress by Armand Bassi with a very theatrical feel, reviving the opulence of historicist fashions. The actress Emmanuelle Segnier wore it on the catwalk as if on a movie set.

Dress (2006/2006) by Miguel PalacioMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Miguel Palacio, 2006

Classic elegance with modern touches. Here, the work of designer Miguel Palacio is displayed. He salvages the dominant lines of the 1970s, combining them with modern cuts that revolutionize the shape.

Blouse (2002/2002) by Sita MurMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Sita Murt, 2002

Sita Murt comes from the industrial weaving sector. The weave of the shirt is combined with a leather skirt with daring lines. The glints of metal on the shirt are reminiscent of chainmail.

Jacket (2009/2009) by David DelfinMuseo del Traje, Madrid

David Delfin, 2009

This is a unique design that David Delfín created for Spain’s current queen, Letizia. Underneath the understated colouring, the daring reinterpretation of a man’s tailcoat is striking.

Ama magazine cover (1967/1967)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Bridal Fashion

To finish, we are displaying three bridal gowns to pay homage to one of the most buoyant and creative sectors in Spanish fashion.

Skirt (1968/1968) by Chus BasalduaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Chus Basaldúa, 1968

This design by Chus Basaldúa has an A-line skirt and full waistband with a detailed embroidered trim of glass beads, crystals, gemstones, pink beading, and gray sequins. The long, white silk-serge skirt falls to the feet at the front and has a slight train at the back. It is made of three interlined pieces.

Dress (1971/1971) by Alberto VeaMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Alberto Vea, 1971

The clean lines of the design pattern are enhanced by the original fabric, turning a child-like dress into a very elegant bridal gown by Alberto Vea.

Dress (2002/2002) by Victorio & LucchinoMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Victorio & Lucchino, 2002

An impressive bridal dress by Victorio & Lucchino, reminiscent of the kinds of dresses worn at festivals because of their pattern design. And yet the use of lace transforms it into a very elegant bridal gown.

Purse (2005/2005) by LoeweMuseo del Traje, Madrid


Accessories are a side note on the importance of this sector and its vitality, particularly in the realms of footwear, perfumes, and leather goods, which is essential to Spanish fashion.

Loewe, 2005

This bag from the Spanish fashion house Loewe, which specializes in leather goods, is shining example of this.

Hat (2003/2003) by Candela CortMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Candela Cort, 1959

Hat designed by Candela Cort, where freedom and originality create a fun and unique composition.

Head-dress (ca. 1965) by Pedro RodriguezMuseo del Traje, Madrid

Pedro Rodriguez, 1965

Headpiece designed by Pedro Rodriguez in 1965 to complete and enhance an outfit with the same fabric and decoration. It is impossible to imagine wearing the outfit without the headpiece to round off the look.

Credits: Story

Fashion in Spain: contemporary designers making their mark

Curator: Juan Gutierrez

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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