Haute couture, made in Catalonia

Asunción Bastida™ was a well-known and celebrated haute couture brand during the greater part of the last century. The motor of this successful house was Asunción Bastida herself, born in Barcelona in 1902, an all-round professional in times not always propitious for female executives.

One of her great finds was the use of cotton and linen fabrics she popularized for street and evening dresses as well as for summer outfits. What is more, she was one of the first Catalan fashion houses to include a boutique with accessories, sports and prêt-a-porter lines, called Asunción Bastida Sport.

In this way Asunción capitalized on the then prevailing style trends. Towards the end of the 40s the social activities of the wealthier classes were increasing and all those different events required different clothes and accessories. So the women of the Spanish high society had to be prepared and wear another design on each occasion. Within this rigid etiquette you should have street clothes, smart clothes, cocktail clothes for daytime parties as well as evening clothes. Asunción’s merit was that she offered haute couture for every possible social event and even added a sports mode.

The beginning
Asunción was a self-made couturier whose career started as a dressmaker in her father’s fabric shop. During the mid twenties she opened a house specialized in knit garments first on the Carrer de Girona, later relocating to the Passeig de Gràcia 96 of Barcelona that soon became an important centre of haute couture fashion. On its first floor, the former atelier of the modernist painter Ramon Casas, she had her sumptuous parlour whose original decoration of 1898 she respected: a monumental stone fireplace and golden Solomonic columns, the perfect Modernist background for her designs.

One of her first fashion shows was held during the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The goal of this big exhibition was to highlight the city’s further technological progress and increase awareness abroad of modern Catalan industry. It also meant the beginning of Asunción’s international career. However, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) temporarily put a stop to all her plans: she was obliged to close her Barcelona shop as well as the branch in Madrid that she had inaugurated in 1934 at Hermosilla street in the Salamanca district. As soon as the war was over, she reopened both establishments.

Cooperativa d’Alta Costura
Shortly afterwards, in 1940, she founded the Haute Couture Cooperative (Cooperativa d’Alta Costura) together with designers Pedro Rodríguez and Manuel Pertegaz, and El Dique Flotante and Santa Eulàlia (two exclusive fashion shops on Passeig de Gràcia), the so-called Big Five. The idea was to promote Catalan fashion mirroring the creation of the Parisian ‘Chambre Syndicale de La Couture Parisienne‘, avoid copying of the designs and organize two yearly shows known as ‘Salón de la Moda Española’. In this way they aimed to attract local wealthy customers of the upper middle class who used to travel to the French capital to commission their new wardrobe but could now do so ‘at home’.

The prestigious members of the Cooperativa were the first designers in Spain to contract their own models to present these fashion shows that first took place at the dome of the famed Barcelona’s Cinema Coliseum and later at the Ritz Hotel with regular shows in Madrid as well. Their dresses were custom-made for a model, but were often personalized for each client in order to fit her needs and preferences. The Cooperativa lived its heyday between the 1950s and 60s. From the 70s onwards the prêt-à-porter gained ground on the unique pieces of the haute couture and fashion became more affordable given its price and mass production.

International collaborations
From the outset Asunción was aiming high and intended to cross borders. In 1939 she went to Milan and Rome to establish a relationship with their leading couturiers. Within the scope of the Cooperativa’s international activities she also showed her collections in the USA, for example one in Miami in 1963 and another in New York in 1965.

One of Asunción’s designs that appeared on the cover of the American magazine LIFE

Her fame did not go unnoticed by colleagues abroad. The couturier had always had a lively interest in French fashion that influenced her work, so no wonder she caught Christian Dior‘s eye who was impressed. He trusted her designing capacities completely and gave her the official autorization to reproduce his models and sign them with his trademark ‘Dior’.

In the early 1950s Asunción recognized the vision of French haute couture designer Jacques Heim. In 1939 he had created a line for younger women, called ‘Jeunes Filles’, they started a close working relationship resulting in the launch of the Jeunes Filles line in Spain. Thus Asunción became one of the first haute couture houses in Barcelona to dedicate a department of her fashion shop to a boutique and prêt-à-porter.

This cocktail dress is an excellent example of Asuncion’s designs presenting all the formal characteristics of the period, based on Dior’s New Look: broad hips, narrow waist and prominent breast. At the same time it displays the principal features of her work that comprise a simple silhouette without elaborate adornments, in this case only a velvet ribbon fastened to the low neckline, and the use of dark colours, especially black.

Generally speaking, if in those days a woman favoured classic designs that is straight lines in dresses fitted to the body without overtrimmings, she would probably have ended up with a Asunción Bastida.

On the other hand, she also loved to design dresses with elaborated embroideries influenced by regional costumes and Catalan Modernism.

Movies and magazines
In the 40s and 50s she was costume designer for several Spanish films and tailored garments for Sara Montiel in La Bella Lola (1962) and Lola Flores in Maria de la O (1959), among other movies.

In 1952 she set up the fashion magazine “El boletín de la Moda”, of which she was technical director. This publication continued as ‘El boletín de la nueva moda’ till its closure in 1972 after having followed the innovations of the Spanish haute couture for two decades.

In 1970 Asunción Bastida officially closed her fashion house, although it continued to operate under her name for another five years. After her death in 1995 her archives were donated to the Museu del Disseny (Design Museum) in Barcelona and consist of more than fifty bound books with the original sketches, mostly coloured in and sometimes with fabric samples attached, patterns, advertising material, photos of the designer on social gatherings and her creations on the catwalk as well as magazines and monographs. The museum’s fashion department boasts an extensive collection of dresses designed by this couturier.

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