Of Dinosaurs and Bras

I have a little obsession here in Madrid.

There are these peculiar stores that are like nothing else in the US and they’ve taken my attention for awhile. This is mostly because I came to discover that what I thought was one type of store is actually more nuanced than I realized.  So, after chatting with a few owners who gave me the lowdown, there seems to be three inconsistent, unenforced, and somewhat overlapping categories:  “mercerías” (haberdashery), and “lencerías” (lingerie and sleepwear), and “corseterías” (bras and girdles).

Big bras
Big bras, bibs, and buttons.

The first one I went into was Mercería Lolita that has been around for 56 years. I was greeted by the owners Elia and Pedro who told me all about their family business.  It’s a cozy, clean shop with tons of small boxes of t-shirts, pajamas, and underwear stacked in cabinets and on shelves. She’ll happily guide you through your shopping experience.  She’ll climb up her trusty stepladder, find your underwear, unbox it, unwrap it, unfold, present & discuss, and then put it all back if it’s not what you’re looking for. As an American “solitary shopper” I just can’t imagine having to tell someone over and over again that the underwear they’re showing me isn’t big enough.  “Lo siento Señora, pero mi culo requiere más tela.”

No Quickbooks here.
No Quickbooks here.

They’re quite aware that the business is a dying breed so they make it very clear that all of their products are hecho en España: their main selling point.  They’re not as in the dark ages as you might think though. Astonishingly, they whatsapped me a youtube video and an article about their business.  Really nice folks. And there’s a warm, comforting feeling about just buying a simple t-shirt or pair of underpants.  No sexy brands or photoshopping. No red and white bull’s eye distracting you with aggression.

Lydia...the tattooed lady.
Lidya…the tattooed lady.

I moved on to a lencería called Lidya’s (can we acknowledge the names for a second?! Love them!) down the block but you’ll quickly notice that it also has “mercería” on the awning but this is just for the ladies. No matter, I was so high from how nice the Lolita owners were and how well we communicated that I was determined to see every beige bra in the city.  Unfortunately, I was a little overconfident and pulled a rookie blogger move when I walked in and forgot to ask if I could take pictures. It will probably take me ten years to get over how she glared at me and bluntly said, “Dime” (talk to me).  I nervously apologized and told her my lame story and then she warmed up.

Let me get that for you.
Let me get that for you.

They’ve been around for 44 years.  That’s just about as long as Zara has been in business. Both operations started similarly but clearly had devastatingly different trajectories and levels of ambition.  Perhaps Amancio Ortega wanted a little bit more control of the product. 😉

I have to admit I was shocked at the price for a “made in China” polyester nightgown: 71 euros. But they had some fancy, lacy hosiery on sale.  I was looking for something white because it’s Spring but La Señora would have none of it.  She made it clear to me that white was for children and first communion.  My American fashion individuality conflicts with such a homogenous country.

Dancing Lady Underpants.

On to Berta’s (mercería and corsetería) who has been around for 26 years and, lo and behold, has a website. Again, lots of boxes, lots of service, and lots of unique merchandising:

Magnificent merchandising
This contraption can only hold socks called “El Ejecutivo.”

So this one had kids stuff too. And I thought these socks were darling.

Someone special back home is getting these.
Someone special back home is getting these.

Finally, we get to round this out with the well-known, very old, Almacén Pontejos (Warehouse on Pontejos). It’s under construction right so I couldn’t go but it’s existence raises some questions. I’m no retail historian but traditionally a haberdashery = sewing supplies, and a mercery = textiles.  These guys sell sewing supplies, not apparel, but they also call themselves a mercería. Go figure and I’m tired now. So for your viewing pleasure, I’ve created a (by no means exhaustive) visual explanation:


By no means exhaustive.

I’m probably making too much of a deal about this but I have a special place in my heart for them now. I hope these beautiful, analog, institutions of historic merchandising stick around a little while longer. It’s important to get to know the person who sells you your underpants.



Que Valiente Without Proof

This isn’t a street style blog at all.

In fact, I’m only going to post one, kinda lame, picture from my kitchen floor.  It’s of the skirt I wore today. It’s a Martha Sleeper fiesta skirt I bought in Santa Fe, New Mexico at Doubletake.

2016-02-29 21.49.59
That’s a frog motif!!

But little back story first:

Last month, I was with my mom and my sister outside Colette in Paris. It’s a cool, concept store but it’s such a scene and way too packed. (I did convince my mom to get some expensive, fancy perfume there. ;-))  We were just getting finished taking a selfie outside when I looked across the street and there was Mr. Scott Schulman from the Sartorialist leaning against a building with his camera, waiting for someone to catch his discerning eye. I’m totally starstruck when I see even a D-list celebrity and, ironically, Mr. Schulman actually makes his living photographing others. Of course, only I knew who he was, but it was still exciting for me. I wasn’t quite ready for my street style debut in late January as a tourist: big, black, puffy coat (but with a vintage Dries skirt underneath to redeem it all!) with worn, black boots, and a reasonable, pilled, vinyl bag with a hand sewn strap. I made us unnecessarily cross the street and walk right past him so maybe he caught a glimpse of how cool I was and how cute the three of us were together in Paris after 35 years. (We reenacted a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower!) Well, we weren’t cool/distinct/blog-worthy enough because he didn’t stop and ask, but I imagine if he did it would be out of concern and go something like: “Can I take your picture? You look so tired and average. Have you had any l’eau?”

But now today, in Madrid, I was walking down the street and a senior gentleman with just a cane was walking toward me. As I passed him he stopped me and excitedly said something along the lines of, “What you’re wearing is a very traditional look! ¡Que valiente!!”  I smiled and spun around for him and asked if he liked it. He said yes and nodded his head emphatically. Then I said thank you and went on my way.

I’m a total sucker for sartorial affirmation especially from random, non-fashiony strangers. I asked around and got several translations of “que valiente”  but it seems best to translate to “so brave” or “very bold.”

As it should be. Right?

I think being called brave is a lovely compliment and it’s something I needed to hear these days. Being brave has much more to do with a mentality and taking a risk and going ahead even if you’re not sure.  Admittedly, I was ready for some stares but I didn’t think it was necessarily brave. (Have you met Michele Lamy?)  I knew people would look at me like I was weird but that’s fine since I’m a tall, pale guiri anyway.    

So, gracias señor por sus comentarios.  You made me rethink the possibilities of fashion and I hope you’re not reading this and you don’t care at all. (But I would totally read your blog if you had one.)

Madrid Es Moda

Madrid just had their fashion week. (#MBFWMadrid in case you didn’t know.)

Events beget events in fashion. Living off the momentum of MBFWM,  Madrid Es Moda is the city wide event that brings the fashion from the runway to the rest of us. Fashion pops up not just in window displays, but in museums, hotels, design and art exhibits, open studios, bookstores, parties, movie screenings, fashion contests, and other cross-collaborations.  There are even specially themed tapas you can order at over 25 restaurants. They are proven to help you fit sample size.

These fashion moments are not the main event.  They’re cursory or something to glance at while you’re eating your pulpo. I went to the lovely Hotel Gran Melia Fenix to get a closer look at the designs of Amaya Arzuaga, the mistress of undulating shapes; Jorge Acuña, jeweltones and silk charmeuse;  Moisés Nieto, the king of mesh; and my new favorite, Devota & Lomba, my fellow lovers of red, black, and white.  The concierge looked at me like I was a freak for explicitly coming to see these.

(Sigh.  I´m still adjusting.  It took me 15 minutes to figure out how to add an accent to the “e” and then do an upside-down exclamation point on this keyboard.)

There was also a free event at El Museo Cerralbo called  “La Mujer Ochoa: Modernisma y Modernidad.”  Ochoa was an artist and illustrator that has been said to simultaneously be a part of Art Deco, Surrealism, Pre-Raphaelites, Abstract art and Gesturalism. Not bad. These mujers are fantastic and so inspiring. You can almost hear the the scratchy record playing in the background as he painted them.

This seemed to be a more casually organized idea and I don´t think the ticket ladies actually knew what I was talking about (or they probably didn’t care).  They wrote something down and waved me in the right direction.

The always recognizable Desigual had a “Street Takeover!”:

I signed up to see a screening of “La Modista/The Dressmaker” (tagline: Revenge is Back in Fashion—mwwaahahahaha!) with Kate Winslet.  The directions were to send an email to a random address to get on the list.  We shall see what happens!

Here’s a beautiful and I think particularly seamless store display that I just happened to walk by and realize it was part of the happenings as well.  Store: Florin Antiques;  Dress: Ion Fiz:

Muy elegante.

There was something called “Designers´Rooms Fashion Bits” that was a presentation of…well, honestly, it took me awhile to figure it out. Something about online showrooms and 100% Made in Spain!…There were so many ideas and events and collaborations and then throw a little language barrier in there and I was lost sometimes.  I think universally, fashion suffers from “event fatigue.” These opportunities are seductive but they can become a thorn in the side of any designer and make them do a quick cost-benefit analysis. Some cool stuff though:

Last thing. Davidelfin and IKB 191 Collab:

Some bleak drama courtesy of
“Inferno” meets Mid-century Modern. Why not?

So here’s the deal so far:  I average 5 miles a day walking around the city looking, talking, and thinking.  Is there something inherently Spanish that I can discern?  Why am I always the only one here looking at this?  I hesitate to summarize yet but I’m certainly past the knee-jerk assumptions of Spanish designers being inspired by warm weather and bullfighting. (Nor did I ever go there!!)  I think it’s pretty damn cool to have Ochoa’s art in the zeitgeist.  And to see fashion incorporated so homogeneously everywhere. (Especially my two favorite things that aren’t often paired, food and fashion.) And to that point, that designers and businesses collaborate so willingly, and goodness gracious, SO MUCH. The breadth of the events is staggering.  I didn’t even go to 1/4 of them. Need to meet the folks who organized this.

Madrid is really doing their own thing and their fashion week is not a separate, isolated event. Fashion is relevant to everyone and a reflection of what’s going on. So I really get it when they called it “Madrid es Moda” because they truly made it their city full of fashion.