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FASHION

Queen Letizia’s fav designer stuns with Madrid comeback

The Queen of Spain's favourite designer Felipe Varela made a stunning comeback to his native Madrid this week with a daring collection that mixed peekaboo and plunging necklines with metal and Swarovski - but in his trademark impeccable style.

Queen Letizia's fav designer stuns with Madrid comeback
Varela Autumn/Winter collection presented at Madrid's Fashion Week. Photo: AFP

Varela first took part in the Madrid Fashion Week in 1996 but stayed away from the city's catwalks for 14 years and his return was the highlight of the event.

The intensely private designer is the preferred couturier of Queen Letizia, a former journalist who has donned his suits and gowns several times – a fact painstakingly followed by glossies and newspapers the world over.

 

 

Just a few of the many Varela outfits the Queen has worn appear in the tweet above.

The British press noted this month that the 43-year-old perennially chic royal sported a snazzy red Varela skirt suit for a fourth time recently.    

She had first worn it on an official trip to New York in 2009.

The head turners from Varela's latest showing included a white wool crepe jacket with an eye-popping red fox fur collar and clingy decollete gowns with bold thigh-high slits that recreated the glamour of Hollywood's golden era.

Peekaboo net jackets were embellished with metal and fur and lingerie-style dresses with 1960s hemlines with an aluminium look – harking back to Paco Rabanne creations from that epoch.

The 2016-2017 autumn-winter “Crystal Army” collection also has an abundance of glittering baubles –  185,000 of them and mostly Swarovski – but does not descend into bling.

That is one of the reasons why he is favoured by the intensely stylish Spanish royal, whose wardrobe is keenly followed by fashionistas around the world.

“It is very difficult to separate the classical and very chic” style of the queen and Varela, said Laura Luceno, a professor at Madrid's Higher School of Fashion Design.

The queen became a new royal fashion icon after her husband's June 19th 2014 coronation, featuring in global glossies as a style idol and trendsetter.    

She appears to champion mainly Spanish designers who base their houses in the country rather than those who operate from abroad, like Balenciaga, Manolo Blahnik and Paco Rabanne.

“Letizia is also drawn to him because he is discreet,” said Luceno of the designer who shuns smart parties and can slip incognito through the streets of Madrid.

Varela, who divides his time between Madrid and Paris – where he had worked for Dior, Lanvin and Mugler – appeared at the end of his Madrid show, dressed in a black suit and sporting sunglasses.

But the queen ditched her usual classic look for a more rock and roll image when she attended the opening of ARCO, Madrid's art fair on Thursday.

 

By Anna Cuenca / AFP

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BUSINESS

In Spain, migrant-designed trainers kick against system

Set up by migrants, the Barcelona Street Vendors Union has just launched its own brand of trainers in the hope of "changing the rules of the game".

In Spain, migrant-designed trainers kick against system
Trainers are on display at Top Manta, a clothing line created by migrants in Barcelona. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

When he left Senegal, risking his life to make the dangerous boat trip to Spain’s Canary Islands, Lamine Sarr never thought he’d end up selling fake goods on the streets of Barcelona.

Known as “manteros” after the blanket on which they lay their wares, these street sellers live a precarious life, always on the lookout for the police.

So Sarr decided to do something different: he helped set up the Barcelona Street Vendors Union. 

“As we were always selling counterfeit products, it gave us the desire to create a brand with our own designs and our own clothes,” explains Sarr, 38, inside the union’s shop in Barcelona’s Raval neighbourhood.

And the name they’ve given the trainers is “Ande Dem”, which means “walking together” in Wolof, the most widely-spoken language in Senegal.

Behind the project is Top Manta, a clothing company set up in 2017 by the union, which is mostly made up of sub-Saharan Africans.

“When we first created the brand, we thought about trainers. We thought it would be easy but we didn’t have the means,” Sarr told AFP.

And what better way to kick against the system than by giving those who are known for selling fakes on the streets of Barcelona their very own brand of shoes, made locally in Spain and Portugal.

The project has been two years in the making, with the manteros working with two local artists to create trainers made from sustainable, vegan-friendly materials that that are produced in small local workshops rather than mass-produced.

With a robust sole, they come in black or tan with a strip of colours “reflecting Africa” and the Top Manta logo: a blanket, that also represents “waves” of the dangerous sea crossing many brave to reach Spain.

A migrant from Africa works at Top Manta, a clothing line created by an association of African street vendors in Barcelona. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Launched earlier this month with a thought-provoking ad on Instagram where the collective has 63,000 followers, the trainers retail at 115 euros.

“Life is not like a trainer advert. We know the race is full of traps,” says a woman’s voice-over footage of police racing after a migrant and wrestling him to the ground.

“It’s not about just doing it, it’s about doing it right,” she says, in a slogan with a clear spin on Nike’s Just Do It campaign.

Insurmountable red tape

Sarr says it is impossible to work as a street seller and not have problems with the law.

For the union, the main aim is to get the manteros off the street where many end up no thanks to Spain’s immigration laws.

In order to get residency papers, the law requires non-EU citizens to prove they have been in Spain for three years, to show a one-year work contract, have a clean criminal record and more.

“How can you be in a place for three years without doing anything? I couldn’t believe it,” said Sarr who didn’t tell his family in rural Senegal that he was leaving for Europe.

Following a week-long sea crossing, he arrived on the island of Fuerteventura in 2006, eventually making his way to Barcelona.

But it was only two years ago that he managed to leave his life as a mantero after the union helped him to obtain his papers, as it has done around 120 others.

Today there are around 100 street sellers working in Barcelona, according to City Hall figures.

It was the disappearance of tourists as a result of the pandemic that put an end to Oumy Manga’s five years working as a hawker on the streets.

Oumy Manga working at Top Manta in Barcelona. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Wearing a colourful turban that matches her dress, this 32-year-old is focused on making a t-shirt at the Top Manta workshop where African tunes mingle with the rattle of sewing machines.

She is currently finishing a course in dressmaking as well as learning Spanish and Catalan.

“I don’t like selling, that’s why we’re here: learning things so we don’t go back on the streets,” says Manga from Senegal, who sewed masks and other protective gear at the start of the pandemic.

‘An unrealistic law’

Some 25 people work in this basement workshop which they acquired with help from City Hall which has backed several of the union’s initiatives.

“The underlying problem comes from migrant influxes and a law on foreigners that is unrealistic,” says Alvaro Porro, who is responsible for head of the commissioner for the Social Economy at Barcelona City Council.

“In the end, it’s the cities who have to cope with the situation no thanks to a law that we cannot change.”

If she had known what was awaiting her, Manga says she wouldn’t have left her homeland. “It’s very complicated, being here five years without papers or work.”

Still without papers, she’s hoping things might change given her new-found ally, the sewing machine. “I’d like to carry on sewing, that’s my profession,” she says, dreaming of one day designing her own collection.

For now, it seems Top Manta has a future: so far it’s sold all of its first batch of 400 pairs of trainers and is now preparing to order another.

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