Spain's old-world style
Like a Picasso portrait of one of his mistresses, Madrid is a city with two colorful but contradictory faces. From one side, the city is in the midst of a frenzied drive toward modernity. Sleek new fashion boutiques open almost monthly (along with designer hotels and fusion restaurants). From another vantage, the Spanish capital is entrenched in the past, holding tightly to its monarchy and centuries-old traditions. When it comes to shopping, old-world style is still what Madrid does best. Of course, if it's Loewe and Chanel you desire, the main streets in the chic Salamanca district, Calle Serrano and José Ortega y Gasset, are lined with international fashion houses. But for classic Spanish clothing and craftsmanship that you can't find anywhere else, it's worth seeking out the small shops, where skilled artisans have plied their trade for generations.
It's easy to miss this 103-year-old cape store, nearly lost among dusty convenience stores and bullfight ticket sellers off the Puerta del Sol. But once inside, you are swept up into Seseña's glamorous past: Black-and-white photos of former clients like Picasso and Luis Buñuel hang near a head shot of Hillary Clinton, all of whom have purchased exquisite velvet-lined capes from the remarkable shop. Styles vary from the Paseo, a woman's simple wrap ($210), to the Clásico, with a capelet over the shoulders and front panels that are embroidered ($970) or plain ($610). Seseña's capes for men are popular with the King of Spain and Vogue's André Leon Talley (designer Carolina Herrera bought him one as a gift). "You must put on a cape," we overheard the shopkeeper telling one customer, "as if you are putting it on someone else." At 23 Calle de la Cruz; 34-91/531-6840; www.sesena.com.
Considered the best maker of espadrilles in Spain, this shop was founded in 1927 by Luis Castañer and his cousin Tomás Serra. Now run (and being expanded internationally) by Luis's grandchildren, it has crafted espadrilles for Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, and, for the last 15 years, Hermès. The small, airy boutique—still the original location, in the central Salamanca district—is lined with shelves full of the canvas shoes ($140-$160) in every possible style—platforms, slip-ons, designs with ankle-wrap ribbons (for summer)—in a multitude of colors and patterns. At 51 Calle de Claudio Coello; 34-91/578-1890; www.castaner.com.
CASA DE DIEGO
It's worth pushing your way through the hordes to get to Madrid's oldest fanmaker, which has occupied a glorious but slightly faded building on the Puerta del Sol since 1853. Spread out in the windows, clinging to the wooden walls, balanced on shelves, displayed under glass in various stages of unfolding—you'll see so many fans it will seem as if you stumbled upon a flock of giant butterflies. There are kitschy ones painted with bullfighting scenes ($15), flirtatious fans in black lace and wood ($40), and ebony designs encrusted with mother-of-pearl ($160-$670). The staff will help narrow down the possibilities, and Arturo Llerandi, the fifth-generation owner, is usually on hand to assist with the consultation. Scattered among the fans are also umbrellas and traditional Spanish haircombs; although these are less remarkable so don't spend too much time looking at them. At 12 Puerta del Sol; 34-91/522-6643; www.casadediego.net.
SASTRERIA LOPEZ HERBON
Working by appointment only from a grand second-floor studio with chandeliers, wood-paneled floors, and ornately carved ceilings, Luis and Gonzalo López carry on a tradition dating back three generations. Founded in 1918 by Gonzalo's grandfather, their studio near the Palace Hotel is now the only traditional tailor's atelier left in Spain. "We have made suits for all three regimes," says one of Gonzalo's assistants, "the republic, the dictatorship, and the monarchy." (A picture of King Juan Carlos in a regal López Herbón suit sits on a table in the reception area.) The suits (from $1,830) and tuxedos (about $2,200) are exceedingly simple and conservative—not a single novel or trendy detail in sight. "You can tell our style by the quality," Gonzalo says, "the way they fit, how comfortable they are, and how long they last." $ At 9 Calle de Cedaceros; 34-91/429-7707.
The Ramírez family entered the guitar business in 1870 when José Ramírez, at age 12, went to apprentice with the renowned guitarmaker Francisco González. At 24, Ramírez struck out on his own, eventually developing the prototype, around 1882, for one of the world's first modern guitars. The business is now managed by his great- granddaughter, Amalia, the first woman in Spain to run her own guitar-making company. Over the years, Ramírez's store, on a quiet street behind the Puerta del Sol, has built instruments for a long list of legendary guitarists, including Andrés Segovia, Paco de Lucía, George Harrison, and Eric Clapton. For beginners and amateurs, Ramírez produces a line of machine-made guitars (from $240). More serious musicians usually select handmade models ($6,450-$17,000)—although Harrison used a machine-made Ramírez to record The Beatles' Help! At 8 Calle de la Paz; 34-91/531-4229; www.guitarrasramirez.com.
Lined with racks of wildly colored, patterned, and flounced dresses, this shop is where nearly every professional flamenco dancer in Madrid comes to get outfitted. Most of the products are more costume than fashion—especially the cropped jackets and high-waisted pants for men. But among the pumps, hoop earrings, haircombs, and fabric flowers, you'll find children's outfits (from $120) and women's skirts (from $100) that could hold their own beside any Galliano or De la Renta. At the least, Maty is worth a stop for anyone who wants a ruffled red and white polka-dot dress ($240) hanging in her closet just for pure fantasy. $ At 2 Calle Maestro Victoria; 34-91/531-3291.
The shopkeepers behind the old glass-and-steel counters here aren't very friendly. They don't have to be. Customers keep flocking to this sweets store, owned by the Mira family since 1845, for its legendary turrón, a traditional Spanish nougat dating back to Moorish times. Usually made with almonds, honey, sugar, and egg yolks, turrón comes in two textures (soft and hard) and in many forms, from chocolate cakes to bars filled with nuts and liqueur. At Casa Mira the candies are piled on tray upon tray upon platter, stacked between racks and bowls of other specialities, like polvorones (flaky biscuits), yemas de nuez (walnut and egg-yolk pastries), marzipan, and candied fruits. Everything is cut, weighed, wrapped in waxed paper bearing the Casa Mira logo, and tied up with a string. If you're lucky, you'll also get a smile. $ At 30 Carrera de San Jerónimo; 34-91/429-8895.
The hundreds of gloves in this eccentric old shop can be overwhelming. But for the patient and determined, foraging through the somewhat cluttered array yields some terrific finds: simple striped wool mittens in quirky color combinations ($15), a full spectrum of fitted leather gloves (from $40), and dainty, formal gold-lace cuffs ($70-$85). Guantes Luque has existed for one hundred years—so too, it seems, has its elderly owner. If you speak Spanish, chat up Matilde Sánchez, whose late husband's family started the business. She will take you on a fascinating—if a bit rambling—journey through the store's history, the golden age of glove-making, and glamorous turn-of-the-20th-century Madrid. At 3 Calle Espoz y Mina; 34-91/522-3287.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.