What would Manuel Pertegaz have done? That is the question that, seven years after the death of one of the most internationally recognized Spanish designers, rattles in the heads of the handful of people, almost a hundred, in charge of continuing his legacy. The legend of the Teruel creator has not lost strength. Trained in Barcelona, his name sounded like a substitute for Christian Dior, he conquered the US market at the age of 36 and had clients as diverse as Ava Gardner, Salomé, Jacqueline Kennedy, Carmen Sevilla or Queen Letizia, whose wedding dress he signed in 2004. He The challenge now is to restore to the brand the relevance it had in its golden years, the fifties and sixties.
With the designer Jorge Vázquez at the helm for a year and a half, the firm, which has managed to dress one of the icons of contemporary fashion —Zendaya—, today revolves around three enclaves: Barcelona, Madrid and Galicia. Mr. Pertegaz’s office, as many continue to refer reverently to him, remains intact in Barcelona. There the administrative division of the group is located. But no dress has come out of its doors for years. Pertegaz’s heirs – his nieces and Ángel Tribaldos, right hand for decades – they maintain a large catalog of licenses. Different manufacturers are in charge of producing shoes, men’s polo shirts, perfumes, umbrellas, purses, earrings and pens under the designer’s name.
And then there is women’s fashion. That is where Galicia, the industrial leg, comes into play: Jealfer. As its CEO, Juan Manuel Morente, explains, it is “a company specialized in knitwear, founded in 1954, which has been licensed to manufacture the Pertegaz men’s knit for 15 years, and the women’s knit for 10 “. And that in 2019 convinced the designer’s heirs to produce the ready to wear feminine and restore its shine. “We were excited to be able to make Pertegaz a national brand premium. It was a challenge because we are industrialists ”, Morente confesses in his Madrid offices.
From making knitwear for men to sewing for women there is a leap. A challenge. They dealt with it in several phases. The first and fundamental —he relates— was to reach an agreement with Barcelona: to ensure “a long-term, international project”. The heirs were pleased that their old partners decided to exploit this license and gave it to them for decades, although they avoid revealing how many. The next step was “to consolidate qualified teams to be able to make textiles at that level”. The Galician manufacturing tradition, increasingly diluted and relocated, but still efficient, provided the know-how. In April 2019 they launched an autumn-winter collection. There was no great designer behind, only that team that made their experience count. The applause was unanimous and Queen Letizia wore her design at a ceremony at the Prince of Asturias Awards. Don Manuel’s heirs were happy.
The Madrid leg that rounds the story arises in November 2019, with the entry into the project of the dressmaker Jorge Vázquez, at the head of his eponymous brand for 20 years and tanned at Inditex, Pernas, Ángel Schlesser or Loewe. “We always think: if we do it, we do it well,” Morente says. Vázquez’s (Betanzos, 49 years old) first show for Pertegaz in January 2020 was a success. An impressive catwalk in the Madrid City Hall, in the Palacio de Cibeles, with a live orchestra and models gliding through the audience. “In each collection it is as if it were the Ronaldo of fashion: I go out to win. To be the best, ”says Vázquez, half-joking, half-seriously, in his Madrid offices, right next to Jealfer’s, and where his signature and Pertegaz’s clothes share hangers. “You have to set the bar high, we cannot live on income. And it would be very easy here: take the basics, adapt them, put a label on them. But I am incapable, the day he sees me like that I will leave him. I have to do it well, not cover the file, ”he says. Making that brand compatible with hers (four collections a year), plus its tailor-made sewing and the young line that it will launch in the coming months, has meant “a brutal life change”. But his eyes are chirping when he talks about the original study on the Diagonal. “It is as if he is alive there: his tapestry, his awards. Time has stopped. You imagine that he is going to open that door and go out ”, he says, impressed.
He visits it from time to time, unimpeded, although he never enters the archive personally: he asks for patterns, colors, designs from certain periods, and they take them out one by one. Incorporate those references into your shows. Some, very specific, almost literally: a large fuchsia taffeta dress, a detail of a flower. The Costume Museum, he says, has also made itself available to him, as have many clients who call him to say: “I married a pertegaz”.
That first collection, autumn-winter 2020-2021, had a spectacular presentation. The second, spring-summer 2021, was not far behind: he was photographed in the Alhambra, the same setting in which, in 1968, Henry Clarke photographed various designs by Pertegaz – along with others by Pedro Rovira, Elio Berhanyer and Carmen Mir— in order to Vogue in a historical session.
The germ of this second proposal was more complex: Vázquez and his team devised it in the house that the designer has in Galicia, where they were surprised by the confinement. They had planned to spend 15 days – as they do to prepare each collection – and ended up staying three months. Now, without forced confinements, they have just finished the third, which will hit stores in the fall. This has been photographed at the Teatro Real, Madrid, like the images that accompany these lines.
It is in Galicia where this new Pertegaz is created. There it is thought and there it is materialized by pattern makers, seamstresses and embroiderers. Both the industrial and the creative lament the disappearance of their productive fabric. “In Spain, unfortunately, crafts are being lost. People want to be a designer and famous, ”laments Vázquez. The firm intends to maintain its ambition in terms of the quality of its garments, but also in terms of its distribution strategy. If Don Manuel paraded in New York, Texas, Boston or São Paulo, in the 21st century that international visibility has come from the hand of celebrities. From Sharon Stone to Priyanka Chopra or Zendaya, princess of television and networks. At the moment, they do not work with any showroom in Los Angeles: they are the ones who are contacting stylists who, in search of something new and classic, European and different, open their doors for them. Doors that, little by little, try to unlock others: those of a physical store. “When everything stabilizes a bit, the first one we will open will be in Madrid,” says Vázquez. They had already had their eye on a couple of locals that with the pandemic they left on hiatus. Now they sell in boutiques multi-brand and in the three that the dressmaker has in Madrid, Palma and Santander. “I speak for myself, but I think it would be essential to recover Barcelona, even if it is a small space,” dreams Vázquez. It was there that Manuel Pertegaz opened his first workshop in 1942. Six years later, he was dressing the gentry and the Spanish aristocracy. It reached 700 employees, sold its collections in some of the most prestigious department stores in the United States such as Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, starred in editorials for Vogue Y Harper’s Bazaar, and received the Medal of Fine Arts (1999) and the National Award for Fashion Design (2009).
The industrial vision is not as romantic as Vázquez’s. Jealfer thinks, above all, of consolidating itself, “with a very clear international vocation, its own points of sale and great digital support”. The spotlights are on the North American and Asian markets. In the pandemic, the company has bolstered its internal management, which sounds less glamorous than opening a store with a shiny sign, but it is critical. “Our industrial, realistic spirit cannot be lost. We have to go step by step ”, Morente admits. “There is a new starting point, with the values of 2020 but more solid, wickers to face the next years with guarantees”.
Pertegaz wants to grow. This is no longer the sixties, but the volumes, the polka dot and the fuchsia color – hallmarks of the brand – are still alive in 2021. And on these pillars the mother house, the Galician licensee and Jorge Vázquez want to build the future. The designer has been in fashion for almost three decades, but he never met Pertegaz. “I would have liked it a lot, more now. He was a genius. You say, ‘How would I do this…?’ The great question.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.