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.
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):
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.