I was recently trawling through images of goldwork on Pinterest (something I waste time doing more than I probably should) and I came across a stunning, beautifully embroidered Matadors jacket.
Whilst I don’t condone it and regardless of ones feelings about the Spanish tradition of bullfighting, you can’t help but admire the extravagant and intricate costumes worn by the toreros (the bullfighters) and appreciate the amount of work and craftsmanship gone into them. Adorned in goldwork embroidery in gold or silver metal threads and decorated with sequins and beads its unsurprising the costume is called Traje de luces (suit of lights), due to the way the sun reflects off the shiny threads when the bullfighter is in the arena.
The level of goldwork in these suits in amazing, they are covered in bullion/purl, braid, spangles, couched passing and beads. The craftsmanship is exquisite.
The traje de luces is a variation of the traditional attire worn by the Majos – these were eighteenth century dandies from the lower classes of Spanish society that distinguished themselves by their elaborate outfits and sense of style based on exaggerations of traditional Spanish dress.
Traditionally the traje is entirely handmade consists of flat-bottomed shoes, tight trousers or taleguilla, suspenders, a girdle, a shirt, a vest, a short jacket or Chaquetilla, and a tie or neckerchief. And then a pink and yellow cape, used for the “dance,” and the muleta, a much smaller red cape, used in the final stages of the fight. A single suit can take a team of craftspeople months to create – especially with the dense goldwork embroidery, each suit is pure haute couture.
There are only five tailors left in Spain devoted to exclusively to the design and manufacture of bullfighter’s dress, and where it was once a family business with skills passed from father to son this is becoming increasingly rare.
With such impressive costumes that are instantly recognisable its unsurprising that the Traje de luces style has found to be an influence in the fashion world. Giorgio Armani designed a suit for the famous Spanish bullfighter Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez. And years previously painter Pablo Picasso designed the same costume for Cayetano’s grandfather, Antonio Ordoñez.
The suit has taken on its own identity away from the bullring and onto the catwalk and culture Ralph Lauren, Moschino, Dolce and Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta are just a few who have been inspired by the suit of lights either in their collection or in campaign ads.
Despite the controversial connotations associated with the Traje de Luces and bullfighting in general, much admiration can be bestowed upon a piece of clothing that is so steeped in history and is still made in the traditional way – keeping the art of goldwork alive.
So to end on a happy note here’s a picture of Elizabeth Taylor wearing a Matador’s chaquetilla that she bought in Spain.
Hattie McGill is a hand embroidery artist based in Buckinghamshire. She creates three dimensional interior pieces and fashion accessories and specialises in the embroidery techniques of stumpwork and goldwork. She also is a freelance embroiderer for film, costume and fashion.