Tradition hangs heavily on the Spanish psyche, but it's also worn comfortably, as an expression of a life lived with pride, spirit and style. For Hemispheres' spring fashion shoot, we travel to Seville to bring you designs informed by the past and inspired by the future — and, while we're there, take you along on an all-senses tour of this sublime town.
Author Jane Wright Photography Oliver Pilcher
IT’S LUNCHTIME at El Rinconcillo, on Seville’s Calle Gerona. Paper napkins are strewn on the flagstone floor and the scent of fried garlic and good coffee fills the air. Three sturdy sherry barrels serve as tables for those enjoying their tapas standing up, while the rest of the patrons perch at the ancient wooden bar or sit at tables at the back of the large room. A sheaf of Ibérico hams hangs, cloven-footed, from the ceiling, and in the tiny kitchen beyond the bar, cooks turn out plates of chorizo and croquetitas, saffron-scented arroz and stewed espinicas con garbanzos. There is no background music, only the sound of the Spanish tongue in full, rapid-fire flow.
The fourth largest city in Spain, Seville sits astride the Río Guadalquivir, the country’s only river port. With an illustrious past dating back to prehistoric times, Seville was variously ruled by Visigoths, Romans, Moors and, eventually, the Catholic kings and queens of Spain. As the words inscribed on the city’s iconic Jerez Gate proclaim, “Hercules built me; Caesar surrounded me with walls and towers; the King Saint took me.”
For all the influences that have been brought to bear here, though, Seville’s greatest legacy may be its Moorish architecture, wonderfully preserved within the city’s history-rich center. There, you can wander the narrow cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings of the former Jewish barrio, Santa Cruz, or take shade in one of the many magnificent gardens around the Alcázar palace that form an oasis of cooling fountains, orange groves, aromatic plants and secluded glades.
While the gardens speak to a more emotional vision, the palace’s impressive interior reflects meticulous architectural principles. Vaulted ceilings, huge windows, numerous courtyards and balconies and tiled interiors of intricate geometric detail meant life within was cool and serene. The glorious ceramics found inside the Alcázar are indeed the signature of all the great Andalusian cities — from Córdoba to Cadiz — but Seville is unmatched in its wealth of this art form. (Witness, for instance, the century-old Plaza de España, a vast semicircular brick-and-ceramic monument to the regions of Spain, with the story of each province told in tiled tableaux.)
The city’s showpiece is its stunning 16th-century cathedral, purported to hold the remains of Columbus. It was built on the site of a demolished mosque, though the only remnants of those Islamic foundations are the Patio de los Naranjos and its minaret, now the bell tower, called La Giralda. A gentler climb than you might expect, involving a series of ramps big enough for riders on horseback, leads to a heart-swelling view of this city of trees: orange, poplar, yew, cedar and pine, shading the streets and making Seville’s parks a haven even in the fierce Andalusian summer.
At night, when the heat recedes, the aroma of cooking wafts through the air and the people spill into the streets to indulge in that most beloved Spanish ritual: dinner. Jovial, entertaining, noisy and often lasting well past midnight, it’s the best way to partake in the Sevillian way of life. But it’s not all that the evenings have to offer. Down these narrow streets a burst of music occasionally escapes from one of the shadowy caverns where flamenco performers act out tales of struggle, longing and lament. There’s a man, a guitar, a woman and sometimes a scuffed, battered stage. The tiniest of movements in the dancer build slowly, quietly, almost menacingly, until her heels erupt into a violent punishment of drumming, her floor-length dress whirling around her in a fury.
The elusive quality of flamenco is known as duende, the spirit of the music and the visceral connection the listener instinctively feels to it. As the evening stretches on, however, and moonlight fills the city’s crooked alleyways, never is it clearer that in Seville, a place that reveals its heart through its music and architecture, its zest for eating and drinking and talking late into the night, duende is applicable to more — far more — than just music and dance.
Credits: Fashion director: Nino Bauti, fashion assistants, Rocio Esquivias and Normandie Hoche; photography assistant, Tom Ayerst; hair and makeup artist, James Hurunui; models, Brenda Costa and Mark Waddleton from Next. Special thanks to the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia and Carmen Esquivias of Family Different Productions (familydifferent.com).