Pedro Rodríguez: Catalogue of Maria Brillas’s Dresses

October 21, 2013 § 9 Comments

Rodriguez Brillas

Thanks to Paco Peralta,* I received a review copy of the new book from Museu Tèxtil i d’Indumentària de Barcelona, Pedro Rodríguez: Catalogue of Maria Brillas’s Dresses. The museum’s collection of Pedro Rodríguez’ work was recently expanded when it acquired the wardrobe of Maria Brillas (1905-1992), a Barcelona society lady who dressed exclusively in Rodríguez for much of her life.

Què em poso? el guarda-roba de Maria Brillas per Pedro Rodríguez

Image via Paco Peralta.

Brillas’ extensive wardrobe—over 300 pieces, from the 1920s to the 1970s—covers most of Rodríguez’ career, and in 2011 the collection was the subject of a major exhibition, ¿Qué me pongo? El guardarropa de Maria Brillas por Pedro Rodríguez (What to Wear? Maria Brillas’ wardrobe by Pedro Rodríguez). The book concludes the museum’s project of cataloguing the new collection.

As I found when preparing a brief discussion of Rodríguez for a Mad Men series post, it isn’t easy to find English-language studies of the designer and his work. Vintage sewing enthusiasts will be aware of Rodríguez through his licensed sewing patterns, which were available from Advance, Spadea, and especially Vogue Patterns in the 1950s and 1960s (click to enlarge):

Pedro Rodriguez sewing patterns: Vogue 982, Vogue 1338, and Vogue 1412

Vogue patterns by Rodríguez. Images via VADS and the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Three short essays accompany the catalogue. Fashion historian Sílvia Rosés’ contribution, “Pedro Rodríguez: the Birth of a Fashion House and the Evolution of a Style,” gives readers an overview of Rodríguez’ 60-year career, with special attention to collections presented during the golden age of couture. Museum preservationist Sílvia Ventosa’s essay, “From the Wardrobe to the Museum: The Dresses of Maria Brillas in the Museu Tèxtil i d’Indumentària de Barcelona,” recounts the story of Brillas’ donation to the museum and its efforts in transferring her private wardrobe to a public, institutional context.

In “The Role of the Client in the Creation and Popularizing of New Trends,” Miren Arzalluz, who curated the 2011 exhibition, offers an intriguing perspective on the couturier-client relationship. Noting the long friendship between Maria Brillas and Pedro Rodríguez and the designer’s published observations on his clients’ role in the design process, she argues that “the relationship between designer and client was far richer, more complex and more fruitful than many people were willing to recognize” (67).

The book’s introductory material includes photographs of Pedro Rodríguez and models wearing his designs, but none of the client whose wardrobe the catalogue documents. Although an image gallery may be seen on the museum’s website, Brillas’ absence from the book feels like an oversight. In this photo taken in the 1950s, Maria Brillas dances with her husband at a formal event:

Photograph of Maria Brillas and Joachim Ensesa dancing - 1950s

Maria Brillas and Joachim Ensesa, 1950s. Image via Forum Para a Moda.

The catalogue proper is divided into eight sections organized by type; a brief summary introduces each section. There are five sections devoted to Rodríguez’ couture garments for Brillas: day dresses; suits and tailored ensembles; coats; cocktail or ceremonial dresses; and evening gowns. Here are some highlights:

Pedro Rodriguez day dresses for Maria Brillas: 1930s embroidered cotton tulle, 1950s printed silk taffeta, and 1960s canary-yellow double knit

Rodríguez day dresses. Left: cotton tulle with cotton embroidery, 1935; centre: printed silk taffeta, 1959; right: double wool knit, 1965.

Pedro Rodríguez coats for Maria Brillas: 1970s green wool with fox fur collar and 1950s lilac silk satin

Rodríguez coats; left: double-faced wool with dyed fox fur collar, 1972; right: silk satin, 1957.

Rodriguez coats for Maria Brillas: 1960s red waxed acetate raincoat and 1970s monkey-hair-trimmed black wool coat

Rodríguez coats. Left: raincoat in waxed acetate cloqué, 1965. Right: coat in double-faced wool with monkey-hair trim, 1974.

Three Pedro Rodríguez evening gowns for Maria Brillas: 1940s green silk with lace appliqués, 1970s beaded silk gauze and jet-embroidered black silk muslin

Rodríguez evening gowns. Left: silk crêpe georgette with silk lace appliqués, 1940-50; centre: silk gauze embroidered with glass and jet bugle beads, 1972-73; right: silk muslin embroidered with jet, 1973.

Pedro Rodríguez cream tulle and lace evening gown for Maria Brillas, circa 1950

Rodríguez mermaid dress in tulle and pleated cotton lace, ca. 1950.

Two sections are devoted to accessories, one for hats and the other for shoes, gloves, and bags. The hats are the earliest pieces in the catalogue, with many from the 1920s and 1930s. Some hats were produced at Rodríguez’ studio, while others were commissioned by him from prominent milliners. Brillas’ shoes were made to match her dresses.

Pedro Rodríguez printed silk satin cocktail dress for Maria Brillas with matching accessories for Maria, mid-1950s

Rodríguez cocktail dress with accessories. Dress: printed silk satin with rayon tufts; silk satin handbag and gloves; Bonet court shoes; all 1955-56.

The final section documents the collection’s miscellaneous other pieces: blouses, skirts, boleros, a bathrobe dress, a marabou-trimmed cape, and a fancy dress costume with mask headpiece:

Pedro Rodríguez fancy-dress hat and mask for Maria Brillas, 1968-70.

Rodríguez fancy dress hat and mask. Hat: nylon tulle with fil coupe brocade; mask: rayon satin with rhinestones, 1968-70.

It’s a beautifully produced volume, with high-quality photos presented in a reader-friendly smaller format. (You can see more photos at the website of Folch Studio, the design firm behind the book.) My only quibble is with the English text (I don’t read Spanish or Catalan), which contains infelicities that seem to be an effect of translation.

This book is a valuable addition to English-language resources on Rodríguez, and will assist in further study of the designer and his place in the history of haute couture.

* Paco was a member of the collection’s monitoring committee; you can read his post on the exhibition here.

Publication details:

Rossend Casanova (ed.), Pedro Rodríguez: Catàleg dels vestits de Maria Brillas / Catálogo de los vestidos de Maria Brillas / Catalogue of Maria Brillas’s Dresses, Barcelona: Museu Tèxtil i d’Indumentària de Barcelona, 2012.

Text in Catalan, Spanish, and English.

ISBN 978 84 9850 402 6

Available online from Laie, Barcelona.

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§ 9 Responses to Pedro Rodríguez: Catalogue of Maria Brillas’s Dresses

  • Amanda says:

    Oh wow! That was such an interesting post. Her wardrobe is beautiful. Absolutely stunning elegance! I would love to have matching shoes! Thank you!

  • sewruth says:

    Really informative, thanks. I admit to knowing nothing nothing about Rogriguez but those images you’ve presented show stunning work in the most luxurious of fabrics. I’ll have to find out more……

  • paco peralta says:

    I love the post Sarah. Rodriguez is unknown and it is good to remember his work and his designs. Thank you very much.

  • Wow. That looks like an amazing book can’t wait to see it. Thanks for the review!

  • Sandra says:

    Thank you for your post about Pedro Rodriguez. I had not heard of him until now. I ordered the book and just received it. What inspiration; amazing work.

  • rubyfoot says:

    and a thank you from me too. I can’t understand how I hadn’t come across Rodriguez before…and I’d love to know more about Maria Brillas

  • Sarah Metts says:

    Thank you so much for your post. I have been trying to find photos of Rodriguez’s work online for a little over a year now, but even in Spanish I was not able to find much. My grandmother worked as a model for Rodriguez in Madrid in the late 40s and the early 50s. She gave me a few photos from those years, but I am really looking forward to reading the book and learning more about his design. Thanks again!

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