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When simple is not simplicity

I’ll start this text in a way that maybe I should not … mentioning the reasonable physical resemblance between Spanish designer Maria Barros and French actress Audrey Tautou. It may seem frivolous, and it probably is, and nevertheless there is another way of seeing what lies beneath this comparison. With María the same is true as with Audrey, under her sweet little face we discover, not without surprise, a dark side that has nothing to do with evil but with steadfastness. María, in fact, is delicate and sweet, but above all, Maria Barros is steadfast.

Precisely, from the contrast between that which seems easy to tame and from the depth and consistency of her mind arises the style and the master lines of her creations. Her fashion is elegant, feminine, with varied cultural allusions and quotations to Art Nouveau, jazz or opera, and we know from herself – just take a look at the collections presented since 2000 – that her fetish garment is the dress, which she outlines following the shape of the body. And all this can make us think that her fashion is just pure softness; but do not be fooled by appearances because, like her countenance, the clothes that come out of her head always have another twist that makes them very sophisticated, very modern … and also severe, although this hardness has nothing to do with rigidity, lets make this clear. Because if not, why does María Barros get on so well with Surrealism and its images? Why when María photographs her collections or curates exhibitions in collaboration with other artists, the result always has some of the distortion, of the strangeness, of the bewilderment and morbidity of those displayed by the masters who paint the subconscious? If the furniture by Dalí grew heels, the sexy good girl dresses by Maria Barros grow belts, complex lace-ups or oversized ruffles and draping to add morbid curiosity, and why not a certain perversion to her simplicity.

The oneiric and sophisticated world of María is monochrome, which does not mean that her colour palette is composed by a single tone, but that her pieces avoid print. I do not know what is the underlying reason behind this choice, but the fact that for a time she worked in Florence in the creative team of Cavalli might give us a clue; that experience helped her to see from the inside how the business of fashion works (in Italy they have a very clear idea that fashion is industry, it is business and above all design, and in this design is were profitability lies. You cannot state this more clearly, I might add), but the king of animal print failed to infuse her with his passion for stains. On why the latter, she explains it perfectly: “I never use prints, because the plain weave allows me to work more with the garment. In a print, the protagonist is the print itself and this fact does not allow you to work as much with the fabric.” And it is precisely in the moulage or draping technique, i.e. beginning the construction of the dress not on drawings and patterns cut on a flat table but directly upon the mannequin, where María is a real master. And to be master at this, one must have a powerful domain of volumetrics and learn to think spatially, something that not all fashion designers are capable of achieving

Of her collections it has been said on occasions that they are ‘highly intellectual’. I agree regarding the application of the adjective ‘intellectual’ to her clothes, because if there is something in them it is thought: regarding the woman’s body, regarding beauty, regarding culture … Hence comes the vintage air to her designs, because she does not play with impossible futurisms but her modernity is rooted in the past, which she respects, but uses as a springboard to build her future aesthetic. This knowledgeable ability to recognize and appreciate the history of her discipline is another feature that makes up her style and her personality, because whoever comes close to María can check out her irony, her lack of simplicity, both in her thoughts and in her designs, and all this without an iota of arrogance or sense of superiority. Hence when I read a few days ago the statement by actress Sidse Babett Knudsen -what obsession with actresses, you will say, but I sincerely believe that María is a fashion star- where she spoke of what the Danish word jantelove meant, it came immediately to my mind me how well that term is suited to the work of the Spanish designer. Janteloven refers to an unwritten rule among Danish prohibiting arrogance and ostentation. Well, María is pure Janteloven. And if you do not believe me, look and analyze these 12 Looks, her looks, which make up the exhibition. You will have no choice but to agree with me.