Welcome to The Director’s Cut, an interactive column featuring fashion, beauty and career advice from RGNN Director and Founder, @isabelevabohrer.
’Twas the spring of 1959. Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, more commonly known as the late Duchess of Alba, wanted to bring a piece of French fashion to Madrid. 14 Parisian models arrived at the Liria Palace, the House of Alba’s official residence in the Spanish capital. But they weren’t just any models.
“In all of Madrid, people weren’t talking about anything else. Are you going to the Liria Palace? Do you have a ticket for Saturday’s fashion show at the Liria Palace?” Mark journalist Mercedes Formica’s words – it was the event of the season: the Dior fashion show, spearheaded by none other than Yves Saint Laurent, who at age 23, had just become Creative Director after Christian Dior’s passing two years earlier. Alongside paintings by Goya and Tiziano, 114 looks from the 1959 Dior spring/summer collection were shown at the Liria Palace. All with a good cause in mind; Cayetana raised one million pesetas for her charity of choice, the Salesian Schools of Francos Rodríguez.
One of Europe’s most famous dynasties, the House of Alba has always been strongly intertwined with fashion. And this winter, for the first time, the Liria Palace is opening its doors to 200 years not only of its fashion history, but the family’s rich cultural heritage as a whole. In an exhibition titled “Fashion in the House of Alba,” art and fashion go hand-in-hand. Paintings by Joaquín Sorolla, Federico de Madrazo, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, or Ignacio Zuloaga, are exhibited alongside the family’s most precious haute couture treasures.
The journey goes all the back to Napoleon’s times, starting with Empress Eugénie de Montijo. The beauty, style and fashion icon of France, one could say she was the first influencer of her kind. She loved Spanish fashion – the lace mantillas, the fans, the ruffled skirts.
And it was thanks to her that Paris became an epicenter of fashion, be it with jewelers like Chaumet, perfumers like Guerlain or leather experts like Louis Vuitton. The Empress recognized the power of clothes and dressing as a political tool, a fact that politicians, royals, and so many others use to their advantage today. As the saying goes, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
That said, the House of Alba was very good at dressing for their job. In fact, the exhibition wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of menswear, and showing that it is possible to be a gentleman without being a dandy, to go back to Baudelaire’s times.
The end of the exhibit brings me to my favorite room dedicated to Cayetana of Alba and the more recent years at the House. It is here that you’ll find haute couture dresses by Balenciaga, Dior and Ungaro.
Even Cayetana’s wedding dress by Flora Villareal, a lesser-known, but not less talented, Spanish designer at the time, is on view. The 1947 wedding was photographed by national and international media outlets, with the dress representing the modern line proposed by Christian Dior in his New Look just six months earlier.
Ask anyone in Spain and they’ll tell you that the late Duchess of Alba is a legend. The exhibit only left me wondering whether she, who had organized Yves Saint Laurent’s Dior fashion show so carefully back in 1959, would have organized the exhibit the same way.
Unfortunately, the space allocated to the exhibition does not do the fashion pieces justice; the rooms are small and the dresses are displayed as if they were paintings, with a front view only. To a fashion lover’s disappointment, you can’t see the back, or in some cases, even the sides. That said, count me in if the House of Alba organizes another exhibition; the pieces, no doubt, are fabulous.
Plan your visit
Palacio de Liria.
Calle de la Princesa, 20. 28008 Madrid.
- Mondays from 10.00 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, from 10.00 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. to 6.45 p.m.
- Until March 31, 2024.
- Buy tickets online here.
Thank you to the House of Alba and the Liria Palace for inviting us.