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If Catalonia ever had its own version of Jackie Kennedy, Maria Brillas (1905- 1992) must have been the one. As the wife of Joaquim Ensesa, a well-known business man from Girona, she spent her life rubbing shoulders with Barcelona’s political and economic elite. And, just like America’s favourite first lady, Maria’s intense social life, strong personality and exquisite taste swiftly made her the family’s figurehead.

What to wear? includes some fifty pieces from Maria’s extraordinary wardrobe which was donated to the Museu Tèxtil i d’Indumentària after her death. The garments selected are creations by her close friend Pedro Rodríguez, Spain’s master of 20th-century haute couture, who became Maria’s loyal collaborator in her lifelong pursuit of a flawless appearance.
The exhibition is made up of a replica of her large wardrobe (or ‘office’ as she preferred to call it) together with four sections corresponding to particular occasions or moments, such as day, evening, cocktail or ceremonial events. These four specific occasions were recurrent throughout Maria’s life and also became the pillars around which she planned and organised her extensive wardrobe. Each section boasts an abundance of rustling tulle, Chinese silk and detailed embroidery accompanied by black and white photos and a short film.

However, exploring Maria’s wardrobe does not only give us an opportunity to admire lavish dresses and fashionable hats, but provides an autobiographical narrative of this iconic woman’s life. With each cocktail dress and photo of a smiling Maria, we get a little bit closer to the woman behind the graceful façade and to the choices she made in front of the mirror in her ‘office’. Her elegant dresses tell a story about self-reflection and the careful construction of an identity where personal preferences had to be taken into account but, above all, the surrounding expectations in a determined social, cultural and historical context. For Maria, her tailored outfits became her most effective tool when she created the immaculate woman that was needed for the day’s event. Thus, her life-long loyalty to Pedro Rodríguez was not only because of the balance between style, propriety and social recognition she found in his designs, but his ability to create what she chose to be.

Amelie Malmgren

At DHUB until August 28th.


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