Pedro Rodríguez: Catalogue of Maria Brillas’s Dresses

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

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: 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: VADS, 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: 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.

Mad Men Era 5: The Europeans

Vicomte Willy Philippe Brenninkmeyer Rocci Justine Eyre The Jet Set Mad Men Season 2
Vicomte Willy (Philippe Brenninkmeyer) and Rocci (Justine Eyre) in “The Jet Set” (Mad Men, Season 2)

This week, four established European designers who were based in Spain and Italy: Rodriguez, Simonetta, Fabiani, and Pucci.

Rodríguez (1895-1990)

Born in Valencia, Pedro Rodríguez opened his first salon in Barcelona in 1918. During the Spanish Civil War he relocated to Paris, but returned to Spain when the war ended. Although little-known outside his country, he was Franco Spain’s most celebrated designer. Rodríguez’s drawings are the focus of an exhibition running until June 17th at Madrid’s Museo del Traje, “Pedro Rodríguez: Alta Costura sobre papel. Figurines de Pedro Rodríguez, 1940-1976.”

Vogue 1338 is a slim evening dress with a uniquely shaped bodice, high-waisted in front and dipping low in the back:

1960s Pedro Rodríguez evening dress and stole pattern - Vogue 1338
Vogue 1338 by Pedro Rodríguez (1964) Evening dress and stole. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Simonetta (1922-2011)

A member of the Italian aristocracy, Simonetta Colonna di Cesarò was born a duchesa and made her first marriage to a Visconti. She presented her first collection in 1946, in newly liberated Rome. During the early 1960s she and her second husband, Alberto Fabiani, combined their talents to form a Paris label, Simonetta et Fabiani. Simonetta was known for youthful, dramatic designs with an emphasis on form and cut.

Vogue 1231 is a glamorous yet simple design for a formal dress with attached circular cape. The asymmetrical fall of the cape gives it a neoclassical, military air:

Vogue 1231 1960s Simonetta pattern
Vogue 1231 by Simonetta (1963) Dress with attached cape. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Fabiani (1910-1987)

Alberto Fabiani was born into a family of couturiers. He trained for a few years with an Italian tailor in Paris before returning to Italy, where he soon became head of the family couture house. As mentioned above, he formed a joint label with his second wife, Simonetta, before returning to his solo label. Fabiani was known for conservative, tailored designs with impeccable cut.

Vogue 1450 is a short evening dress with waistcoat detail and deep, slashed neckline revealing an underbodice. A narrow, self-corded belt ties in a bow at the raised front waistline, above a skirt shaped by soft pleats:

1960s Fabiani short evening dress pattern - Vogue 1450
Vogue 1450 by Fabiani (1965) Short evening dress.

Pucci (1914-1992)

The designer we know as Pucci was born Marchese Emilio Pucci di Barsento, to the aristocratic Florentine family based at the Palazzo Pucci. He obtained a doctorate from the University of Florence and also served as a pilot in the Italian Air Force before opening his first boutique in Capri in 1949. Pucci was famous for his youthful sports and resort wear in distinctive, colourful prints and new fabrics like lightweight silk jersey.

Vogue 1351 is a chic casual ensemble consisting of a boxy jacket, simple blouse, and tapered pants with optional stirrups. The model was photographed in Florence rather than Rome:

1960s Pucci jacket, blouse, and pants pattern - Vogue 1351
Vogue 1351 by Pucci (1964) Jacket, blouse, and pants. Image: PatternVault on Etsy.

I always find it interesting how the Vogue Couturier line drew attention to the designer’s nationality or the European city where they were based—Pucci of Italy, Rodríguez of Madrid—drawing attention to the not-Paris of emerging fashion centres in London and on the Continent. Although Rodríguez was somewhat isolated in Franco Spain, the Italian couturiers were designing for the international jet set.

Next: New Talent: Laroche, Galitzine, and Forquet.