Normally when asked to name the most influential country in the modern world in terms of fashion, countries like France and Spain come to mind immediately. Although France seems to have dominated the industry in the past few centuries, with the US and the UK catching up in more recent years, in the early 16th century Spain was actually at the forefront of world fashion, because of their beautifully embroidered designs and use of colourful clothing.
Much of today’s fashion designs have been heavily influenced by traditional Spanish dresses, and during cultural events in rural parts of Spain, tourists can see the colourful traditional dresses still in use, often brought out on special occasions. People flock from all over the world to see fashion shows hosted in Barcelona and Milan, and many Spanish Fashion Designers still hold a lot of influence over the fashion industry today.
How has Spain come to so heavily influence what the modern world sees as ‘cutting edge’ fashion, and what else is it doing to bring world cultures together?
Classical Spanish Dress
In the 16th century, Spanish fashion influenced much of Western Europe, and although the style was heavy and cumbersome for women it was considered the height of fashion, despite them taking hours to get dressed. Spanish capes and corsets were extremely popular with British women and women of Western Europe. To add volume and to imitate an hour glass figure, bell-shaped hoop skirts made of whalebone and wire were used underneath skirts. These were known as farthingales.
The corsets and skirts were often made of heavy fabrics and decorated with hand embroidered, colourful designs or previous stones. Both men and women wore intricate gold necklaces, and the colour black became a colour synonymous with special occasions.
Spanish Dress in Cultural Ceremonies
As traditional Spanish costumes remained the same when the world fashion industry moved on, the Spanish culture adapted to reflect these changes. On special occasions, most Spaniards will still wear traditional clothing to reflect their pride in their culture, and tourists can often see special performances and plays in which traditional Spanish clothing is still worn.
Flamenco and Salsa dancers will often adorn themselves with traditional Spanish dresses on special occasions, often in red, black and white with hair tied in a bun for ladies, with a rose behind the ear. Men will often wear black or red tuxedo shirts and slacks.
The Mantilla is often worn during religious celebrations and weddings. It is a lace or silk scarf worn over the head or shoulders like a veil, and is held in place by pins. The Gilet is another commonly used piece of traditional Spanish garb; it is a sleeveless jacket that is fitted and embroidered with colourful designs. The Gilet can be used for special occasions, or as a way to get additional warmth outdoors when the sun begins to set.
Spain’s Influence on Today’s Fashion World
The Fashion industry may seem like a shallow venture, however it still nets millions of dollars of profit for national and international businesses, and also places Spain’s name among the very best in the world. Notable Spanish designers such as Pedro del Hierro, Paco Rabanne and Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, have either decided to launch themselves in Spain and then branch out to other countries, or create their name in foreign countries, later earning them greater respect in the Spanish fashion world.
As well as heavily influencing the designs of many fashions today, the rise of Spanish designers, perfume makers and models has lead to the increase in knowledge of the Spanish language. Many college students take an active interest in the history of fashion and will choose to take a Spanish course alongside fashion to help better their understanding of the Spanish culture and how it has impacted Spain’s approach to the fashion industry.
Founded in 1975 Zara is now one of Spain’s most famous clothing brands, and Zara retail stores can be found all over the world, including in China and India. With just under 2,000 stores worldwide, Zara has brought the best of traditional Spanish culture and fashion to your local store. Zara started off pretty small, as most companies do, but by 1986 the clothing store had branches in most of Spain’s major cities, including Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. To this date there are over 350 Zara stores located in Spain alone.
Zara opened its first international store in Porto, Portugal and found immediate success. Later, in the early 1990’s Zara crossed the Atlantic Ocean to open its first store in America, which was the New York branch. Following New York, Zara branched out to Paris, another fashion capital of the modern world. In the 1990’s Zara became a true Spanish icon of modern fashion and has continued to expand across the world to this day.
Whether you are an active fan of the fashion industry and eagerly await the next delivery of your magazine subscription to see what the masters have come up with, or you are a more casual owner of some traditional Spanish clothing from Zara or another international outlet, or you have little interest at all in the fashion world, it is not hard to see the influence Spain has had on changing the modern fashion industry. Plus with more diverse models now being urged onto catwalks, it may not be long before Spain helps to influence the modern fashion industry of the Eastern world, thus working to unite the world of design.