Sorolla and Fashion sets out a journey through the world of fashion from the era of Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) via his paintings, particularly the female portraits he created between 1890 and 1920.
In recent years, thanks to the publication of monographs and studies and the holding of exhibitions, there has been more analysis on the different facets of Joaquín Sorolla’s work, including the importance of the portrait, to such a degree that some of his works are now considered essential to the history of Spanish portraiture: from his portraits done inside, which reveal his admiration of Velázquez (such as in La Familia, 1901, at this exhibition) to his portraits in the open air, which were his main contribution to this genre. Sorolla left us an admirable and large gallery of characters, ranging from aristocrats, writers, scientists and artists, as well as friends and members of his own family.
Joaquín Sorolla was an enthusiastic spectator, capable to capturing the beauty of people in street life, and very attentive to changes in fashion, elegance and social manners. His portraits are a catalogue of period clothing, and we can see the detail of the fabrics, the shine of the silks, the rich textures of the velvets and lace but, above all, the style, bearing and grace of the figures that fashion has created in its constant evolutions. In his trips to Paris, Sorolla took advantage of leisure time to do one of his favourite things: buy clothing for his wife and two daughters.
In the last third of the 19th century, a person's external appearance was considered a manifestation of their inner character. This is why clothing played such an important role, and the smallest detail was revelatory of the person's identity. Thus, the ‘art of elegance’ had an even greater value than beauty for some mindsets of that period. In Spain, the pages of publications like La vida galante, La Moda Elegante, Blanco y Negro and La Ilustración took great efforts to keep end-of-century Spanish women up to date on ‘what is being worn’, giving cutting edge news on the latest trends.
The onset of the industrial production of mass-produced products in the 19th century, all completely identical, was viewed as a great advance at that time, because they not only provided consumers with items at more democratic prices, but also because they were ‘perfect’, as all flaws inherent to hand made products were eliminated. The years went by and the idea slowly started to appear that maybe, these detested imperfections, had their positive side, as they on the one hand added a human touch to the object and, on the other, added diversity. Through the mass production of equal products, industry started to be seen as an inflexible, hierarchical and somewhat dictatorial framework that left no room for differentiation, and it obliged consumers to live in a homogenised environment.
Pioneer of this anti-serialisation school of thought is master Gaetano Pesce, who in the 70s was already speaking of malfatto—meaning badly made or imperfect—as a positive trait to be celebrated in objects. Pesce is neither a romantic nor nostalgic, never posing the matter in terms of an aspiration to eliminate industry and promote a return to artisan production. His objective has always been to attain this desired or yearned for singularity that makes objects unique, from the platform of industrial production, managing via this production to obtain a reflection more closely in line with our society today, which is fortunately and unequivocally diverse. He then executed two projects for the company Cassina, the ‘Dalila’ chair and the ‘Sit Down’ armchair, which let factory operators decide on the final form, thus achieving that each one was slightly different from the rest.
Thanks to new technologies and the impact of social networks on society, today it is easier to manufacture non-standardised products. There are many designers who offer differentiated products or let variations be added as requested by the end consumer. Design personalisation and customisation is common today. This exhibition contemplates this concern of contemporary designers to respond to consumers’ wishes to escape from this undifferentiated domestic landscape. Some of the projects displayed are quite experimental, exploring this idea and its possible implications from a conceptual viewpoint, raising questions for debate. Another of the projects exhibited shows how these same ideas are now commercialised by different companies to respond to consumers’ yearning to have an individual identity.
Ana Domínguez Siemens