Five Hundred Years of Spanish Fashion to Be Focus of New Exhibition

Despite the thousands of miles distance between their two institutions, the Meadows Museum in Dallas and the Museo del Traje in Madrid are teaming up to map out Spain’s fashion history.

To illustrate how fashion trends in Spain have evolved over 500 years, this fall’s show will pair paintings from the Meadows’ collection with historic dress and accessories from the Museo del Traje. “Canvas & Silk: Historic Fashion from Madrid’s Museo del Traje” is the first substantial collaboration between the Spanish National Museum in Fashion and an American museum. It bows Sept. 18 in Dallas and will run through Jan. 9.

Ignacio Zuloaga’s “The Bullfighter ‘El Segovianito’ 1912,” for example, will be displayed with a “traje de luces,” the suit typically worn by bullfighters. Elaborately embroidered, they are covered with metallic threaded tassels, sequins and baubles that glint in the light and accentuate a bullfighter’s movements. Joan Miró’s “Queen Louise of Prussia,” from 1929 will be beside a vibrant hand-painted dress and shoes from the contemporary designer Manuel Piña. This marks the first historic fashion exhibition that the Meadows has staged. It did, however, stage another fashion one albeit about Cristóbal Balenciaga and his couture legacy. The museum’s curator Amanda Dotseth, who co-curated the exhibition, described the Museo del Traje as “relatively young because fashion has always been hard to classify in the museum context. Is it fine art? Is it ethnographic?”

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The link-up is meant to inform The Meadows’ Spanish Art that spans medieval through contemporary with a strength in 18th- and 19th-century paintings and sculpture. Her counterparts from Madrid looked at that work and pointed out the Chantilly lace, specific collars and other fashion items portrayed in the artwork. The pairings are meant to give viewers a better sense of what the artists were trying to render with embroidered silks and specific garments, she said.

The message isn’t only decorative though. Hoping “people will walk away thinking more about what they wear, what people wore and what that means. It’s easy to throw something on and go out. Everything has a little bit of meaning and there is something relevant today about thinking about where the things you buy and wear come from,” Dotseth said.

The fact that historically the most elite members of society could afford fashion elements made from ivory, whale bone (particularly for crinoline) and tortoise shell items is referenced in the exhibition, whereas now imitations of these things are customary. One of the standout pieces is an embroidered Manila silk shawl named after the capital of the Philippines, that was made in China and traveled via the trading hub of the Philippines before going on to Spain. There, the “beautifully dyed silk” shawls were modified with fringe and so valued that they were passed down from one generation to the next, Dotseth said.

“It’s worth thinking about all the effort and distance travel that goes into one garment,” she said. “I hope people learn about the Meadows’ permanent collection, about Spain, and the way what we wear shapes our personal identities as well as our national identities. This sounds really pedestrian but I hope they just enjoy seeing really beautiful things. Really nice lace and silk is a pleasure to look at just like a beautiful painting is. There is something restorative in quality craftsmanship, materials and beauty,” she said.

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