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The reign of Spain

Spain once struggled to reach the sartorial heights of its European neighbours. But the country’s designers are now taking centre stage, as Dan Jude discovers

Dan Jude,

Traditionally, Spain has not been not known for its influence on global fashion. Think of key fashion weeks Milan, Paris, London and New York come to mind. Sift through the most successful, best-known designer labels, and, similarly, there are plenty of Italian, British, American and French names, but relatively few Spanish. Of course, there have always been successful Spanish designers; Agatha Ruiz de la Prada and Paco Rabanne are among the most respected, not to mention Cristóbal Balenciaga and Manolo Blahnik both of whom were born in Spain. But although it has produced a handful of big names, Spanish fashion has not, historically, infiltrated the world in the same way as, say, Italian fashion.

Over the past few years, however, Spain has been fighting back. Spanish brands are flooding shopping streets in Europe, Asia and North America, while a growing number of Spanish designers are garnering industry interest at major fashion weeks across the world. Much of Spain’s sartorial resurgence can be traced back to one company: the Inditex Group. This vast organisation, which owns a number of Spanish brands, including Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka, has put Spanish fashion on the map, thanks to a huge global expansion project.

Take the rise and rise of Zara; founded 35 years ago, the brand built a name for itself in Spain in the 80s and 90s. But it wasn’t until the turn of the century that it became a global player, when it entered a number of new markets. Over the past decade, Zara has opened stores all over the world and today a staggering 75% of its sales are international. It now boasts over 1,500 stores worldwide and is one of the most recognised brands on the planet. Several other Inditex brands are following in Zara’s wake; many have been expanding at a similarly explosive rate over the past few years. Both Massimo Dutti and Pull and Bear now have over 500 stores worldwide, with 50% of all business overseas.

Plenty of other mass-market Spanish brands are also experiencing a period of prosperity. The Camper shoemaking company, founded in 1975, now has more than 300 stores in over 70 countries, while jewellery specialist Tous is also emerging as a global name; the company, founded in 1920, now has nearly 400 stores in 42 countries. This year, it plans to open a further 50 stores worldwide and recently signed up Kylie Minogue as a brand ambassador.

Mango, too, has recognised the power of celebrity and has used film stars Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson to boost sales. As for Zara, the acceleration of Mango’s international presence has been remarkable; it now has more than 1,200 stores in 91 countries. Several other Spanish brands, including leather-goods specialist Loewe and clothing company Desigual, have been achieving similarly encouraging growth figures. The latter had a staggering 5,500 points of sale by the end of 2009 and aims to have over 7,000 by the end of this year. Given the gloomy economic backdrop, such a growth rate is quite astounding.

It’s not just midmarket Spanish brands that are booming; on catwalks around the world a number of established and up-and-coming Spanish designers have got the industry talking. Knitwear maestro Ramón Gurillo was the talk of the town last year when he debuted at London Fashion Week; his new collection is now being stocked in Browns and Liberty and worn by Cheryl Cole. This year, it’s Emilio de la Morena who set tongues wagging with his showing in London this season.

Anna Laub, Europe editor at trend analysis experts WGSN, recognises Spain’s growing presence on the big four fashion weeks. She points to young talents such as David Delfin, as well as catwalk regulars such as Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, as evidence for the nation’s impact on the world of high fashion. Laub also recognises the significance of domestic events. ‘With Barcelona Fashion Week back up and running, as well as Madrid and, this year, Valencia Fashion Week, Spain is really starting to pull some tricks out of the bag,’ she says. Significantly, Laub adds that the standard of design is ‘surprisingly high for such a small country.’

Once a background figure, Spain is now a major player in the fashion world. Today, whether you’re on Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia or London’s Oxford Street, you’ll be surrounded by Spanish brands. With enormous global expansion plans in place for many key brands this year, and a new generation of young Spanish designers ready to take centre stage, the future looks brighter than ever for Spanish fashion.



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