Designer Diaries – Queen Sofia and Pedro Rodríguez

Iselen has found some more information for us, so her Designer Diary series has extended another week. I think we can all agree that this is the good news that 2021 needs ; ).

I love searching on the net for old looks of Queen Sofia, above all during her years as Princess of Spain (she was never proclaimed Princess of Asturias), and I came to the conclusion that her best outfits were made by Pedro, who’s one of the most important designers of my country.

Wikimedia Commons

Pedro Rodríguez (1895-1990) was born in Valencia but moved very young to Barcelona. He started working with a tailor when he was 10 years old and opened his own business in 1919 with his wife Ana Maria, a dressmaker. He moved to Italy and France during the Civil War and came back to San Sebastián, where he opened an atelier in 1937, another one in Barcelona and later in Madrid. In 1940 he founded the Spanish Haute Couture Cooperative Society but, due to the country’s post war situation, not many women could afford buying his dresses so he started working for foreign clients, above all Americans.

Pedro was a good friend of Balenciaga even if their work method was completely different since he never designed on a paper first, Pedro Rodríguez used to take the fabric and started trying it on the model’s body directly, creating a design right there, without a second thought. And yet, his dresses were always elaborate, complicated and difficult, he became famous for his style of drapery and embroidery works that other Spanish designers were avoiding since their clients couldn’t pay for that kind of magnificence and luxury. Obviously, that sumptuousness clashed against the new prêt-a-porter trend and he closed his atelier in 1978, refusing to give up his personal haute couture style.

Pedro Rodriguez and Alicia of Bourbon Parma, Duchess of Calabria (Aunt of Juan Carlos)

Queen Sofia wore a Pedro Rodriguez dress to attend the Inauguration of the Royal Theatre in Madrid as a concert hall in October 1966, her mother Queen Federica of Greece was with her but we only have one picture of them since the star of the night was Doña Carmen Polo, the Dictator Francisco Franco’s wife. This is how things worked back then, I’m afraid. The dress was made of champagne coloured silk in an empire style, embroidered with sequins and pearls by the famous craftsman Bargallo. It was sold in auction in London years later, redid by a theatrical designer and now the collector Pedro Usabiaga has bought it, restored it and shared a lovely pic on his Instagram. Photos below courtesy of Foro Dinastias and the Usabiaga collection.

In January 1971, Juan Carlos and Sofia visited President Nixon at the White House. It may seem normal right now, just another state visit, but it was crucial back then: Juan Carlos had just been appointed as his successor by the Dictator himself and Nixon’s determination to consider this as a state visit was seen as a recognition of Juan Carlos’ new status. This would’ve made more difficult for Franco to back down on his decision. Queen Sofia stayed in the background for 6 days while her husband attended meetings but stood out during the gala dinner with a Pedro Rodríguez creation in white with silver thread embroidery work and red sequins, matching the Niarchos parure. It was a great choice since Americans were very interested in these new royals from Spain and were expecting Sofia to look like a princess, but Spanish ladies never wear tiaras to visit republics so the Niarchos’ rubies on her head looked discreet and regal at the same time.

In October 1971, the most extravagant party was held in Persepolis by the Shah of Iran to celebrate the 2,500 anniversary of the Persian Empire. More than 60 kings, queens, presidents, heads of state and international leaders attended and stayed in fancy tents made of silk with all the comforts imaginable, even marble bathrooms in the middle of the desert. Five days of incredible luxury that ended up in a gala banquet. Queen Sofia wore a stunning creation by Pedro Rodríguez in yellow silk with embroidered sleeves and her mother-in-law let her borrow the “Russian” tiara and a necklace from the Joyas de Pasar set, the earrings belonged to princess Sofia and have been worn by Letizia too. But please, take a look at the bag: it’s made of gold and diamonds, a traditional design from the 40s and 50s, the Countess of Barcelona had several like this one. Princess Sofia also had a matching sleeveless coat that showed the embroidered work.

Queen Sofia wore the dress again to visit Japan a few years later with the Spanish floral tiara. You can see the skirt was embroidered too. 

If you are fascinated by Rodríguez, take a look at this article! If you like designer sketches, don’t miss it. Or this! Next week we move on to another Spanish designer, who attentive readers will recognize since he was mentioned earlier in this post.