Typical Spanish is a concept that can also be applied to things that are particularly exclusive or stylish. Artisans at the cutting edge of their craft, gastro bars with a neocañí or neo-gypsy atmosphere, and young cuplé talents have created an aesthetic that combines authenticity with the last word in chic.
Our stroll begins just around the corner from the Puerta del Sol, at one of the city’s most exclusive shops, Capas Seseña. And when I say “exclusive” I really mean it, because “Seseña Cloaks” is the only shop in the world that specialises in this type of traditional garment. Founded in 1901, the shop has serviced celebrities such as the writer Camilo José Cela, who collected his Nobel Prize with a cloak draped over his shoulders, and actors Marcelo Mastroiani—who visited the establishment in 1974 accompanied by his then girlfriend Catherine Deneuve—and Pierce Brosnan. Pablo Picasso, Federico Fellini, Michael Jackson and Hillary Clinton have all worn cloaks made at this workshop which in recent years has added a new silk line for women.
“Exclusive” is also an apt description for the handmade dance shoes sold by Don Flamenco, whose owner Manuel Ballester tells me that over half of their commissions come from outside Spain and that their models are so popular that they have also started making dress shoes. Right now his window display on Calle León boasts an eye-catching delicate paper skirt made by the firm Objetos perdidos, which has demonstrated on more than one occasion that things discarded without a second thought can be beautiful when you know how to look at them. They created this project for DecorAccion 2012, an interior design festival held in the Literary Quarter every September.
This area near the Amor de Dios Spanish dance school is home to many of the shops that specialise in flamenco clothing, but Keflamenca wouldn’t be out of place in Malasaña. The duende or special magical quality is provided by Silvia Arcavín, an Argentinian who came to Spain to complete her dance studies and ended up abandoning the flamenco clubs to design dresses coveted by modern flamenco enthusiasts. Her shop on Calle Tres Peces sells all kinds of accessories, ranging from quirky macramé combs to geometric earrings. But what her label is really famous for in flamenco circles is the daring prints she uses, which have much more in common with Pop Art than with traditional polka-dot patterns .
Prints are something they know about at La Revoltosa, a retro haberdashery that seems to tilt its trade at those zarzuela seamstresses who in recent years have gone over to punk. The DIY philosophy behind this treasure trove of fabrics and buttons is that every customer can be his or her own stylist. The shop also offers an alterations service, thanks to which clothes that went out of fashion years ago suddenly seem ultra-cool. With two establishments—one at the El Rastro flea market and the other in Triball—they also devote part of their space to promoting young designers, accessories and second-hand items.
This route is also a chance to experience a perfect blend of authenticity and chicness for the palate, and a good place to discover it is Estado Puro, the gastrobar owned by Paco Roncero that has reinvented traditional Madrid tapas. In both the establishment in the NH hotel on Paseo del Prado and the one in the NH Palacio de Tepa, a typical Spanish comb of architectural proportions covers the ceilings with a fish-scale pattern.
A very different atmosphere altogether is what you will find at Casa González, a grocer’s shop founded in 1931 that has evolved over the years into a delicatessen, with prices to suit every pocket. The counter’s blue-and-white checkerboard pattern and an exquisite selection of French and Italian cheeses are wonderfully reminiscent of the French film Amélie. But in fact Casa González could not be more authentic, with its letters etched on the shop window and a long list of quality Spanish wines.
Spanish wine, olive oil and beer are all products they can tell us about at the San Fernando Market, the granary of Lavapiés, where a good number of stalls are committed to ecology, the sustainable economy and tradition. For example, La Buena Pinta sells artisanal beers like Cibeles, La Virgen and LEST, all produced in Madrid. Meanwhile, at La Siempre Llena wine can be purchased by the jug, like in the olden days. The partners got the idea after a trip to Italy, birthplace of the Slow Food movement which promotes organic foods and the consumption of local produce. Outside the market, on Calle Embajadores, the ecological fruit-cum-coffee shop El Mar-Tiendita enBioverde has also embraced this concept which is transforming Madrid’s most authentic neighbourhood, although it has preserved the picturesque tiled facade of the old establishment, a barber’s shop.
For many people there is nothing more typical of Madrid than a plate of tripe. Just a stone’s throw away, at number 1 on Calle Encomienda, we come to an offal shop for gourmets. Os-Car was founded in 1932 and is so delicate, with its tiny shop window boasting innards hung like animal skins, that even those who are traditionally reluctant to discover how delicious the various types of offal truly are will succumb to its charms. All of these things are perfectly in keeping with an authentic chic palate because offal is currently being rediscovered by some of our finest chefs, like Abraham García at Viridiana and Joaquín Felipe at Europa Decó.
The soundtrack for this post would be a copla performed by Martirio, who has long been flirting with bolero, jazz and rock; a “neorealist cuplé” by La Puríssima; or an erotic ballad by La Bernalina, two young singers who have rescued the music of our grandparents’ day to prove how contemporary it still sounds today. And where better to end this stroll than at Sala Tribueñe, which won last year’s edition of the Ojo Crítico theatre awards for its promotion of traditional Spanish culture. Its current show, Por los ojos de Raquel Meller, written and directed by Hugo Pérez, is a musical about the legendary cuplé singer who turned down the chance to work with Charlie Chaplin in City Lights, but that’s a story that deserves its own post.