Spain

Designer Diaries – Queen Letizia and Felipe Varela

Queen Letizia and Felipe Varela: discretion was the key.

When our hofdames kindly asked me to write this diary about Felipe Varela I thought: “Oh my… But we know nothing about him!” Mr. Varela is the most discreet designer of Spain, and a very private man, and it’s exactly that what makes him the perfect match for a queen. He’s only given a handful of interviews since he opened his own atelier and he never, ever, talks about his clients.

Felipe Varela was born in Madrid in 1968 and his career in the fashion world started in the Esmond College of Paris where he studied Fashion Design and Pattern followed by a High-Couture course in the prestigious Institut Français de la Mode where he won the Young Designer Award. Later, he did several internships at various well-known brands: Kenzo, Dior, Lanvin, Tarlazzi or Torrente, but above all Thierry Mugler was his favourite mentor and inspiration.

He returned to Madrid in 1994, opening his store/atelier in José Ortega y Gasset street where infanta Elena used to live, and attended Madrid fashion week for the first time in 1996, but left soon after since he felt constrained by the rules he must follow. He became the discreet designer of some high society ladies who liked smart cocktail dresses with very feminine silhouettes and tailored jackets for their day looks.

Rumour has it that it was Queen Sofia who talked to Letizia, Princess-to-be back then, and advised her to choose one main designer, a reliable person who could design her “work uniform” and make things easier for her since she was going to attend an average of 200 events every year. Lorenzo Caprile was the chosen one, and you all remember the looks she wore for Frederik and Mary of Denmark wedding. He was a good friend of infanta Cristina, but Mr. Caprile made a huge mistake a few weeks later… he talked to the press. He made some niave statements about how they worked together, how many times Letizia tried the dresses, how she had to change outfits because he felt sick due to her anxiety and needed the thicker corset to hide her swollen belly during the pre-wedding dinner. It didn’t seem important, but Letizia didn’t like it at all and decided to resort to plan B.

The newly engaged Letizia Ortiz was pleasantly surprised by the outfit infanta Elena wore to attend her engagement lunch and media photoshoot: an impeccably tailored grey jacket. Infanta Elena informed her that the designer was her neighbour and Letizia contacted him on behalf of her mother and sister: they both were considered members of the “best dressed” group attending the princess’ wedding, later thanks to Varela.

That’s how it all started in 2004… but there’s not much I can tell you because Varela has never mentioned the name of Letizia in public: we don’t know how they work, how many times she tries dresses, how she chooses them, if she goes to the atelier or Varela goes to Zarzuela, nothing. The designer, his partner and his staff are extremely discreet and that’s why Letizia continued to trust them. The first outfit she wore by his new main designer was a vanilla skirt and jacket to attend King Juan Carlos’ name’s day in June that year, she liked that one and repeated it a lot. She wore the pink ruffled skirt to attend Felipe’s cousin’s wedding in November 2004. As you can see, all of these outfits are two pieces, one solid colour but usually a soft shade and she wears matching accessories.

In 2008 something changed. Letizia and Varela worked on a younger and more feminine look, the peeptoe shoes became her signature till the point we called them “Letizios” in Spain, dresses and jackets were perfectly tailored and pencil skirts highlighted her silhouette. Gala events were full of lace dresses, we all talked about lace fatigue, and she trusted her “bank manager” look to attend audiences every day.

Princess Letizia became Queen Letizia in 2014 and, even if she still trusts Varela for important events like Felipe’s proclamation or the Princess of Asturias Awards, she’s opened up to new designers and has found her authentic style, she feels free to experiment a bit more, I guess. But Felipe Varela is always there and they both have worked together for years, from that vanilla outfit to the stunning red dress she wore to visit the Queen in 2017. A long journey and a long friendship. 

Next week our guest author Iselen continues her journey through the Spanish royals and their designers with another look at the Classic Queen Sofia. Please tune in!