Flamenco Fashion!


I have recently become addicted (as in, I watch it every couple of days. Perhaps on repeat.) to Anna Calvi’s simple but mesmerizing video Blackout:

Though this particular video spends much time grazing Ms. Calvi’s chiseled jawline and lingering on her sensuous, down-turned red mouth (all of which I heartily approve of!), you unfortunately don’t get a concrete taste of her distinctive style, as you do in this live performance of another new favorite of mine, Desire:

Here we voyeurs can better appreciate the full ensemble: the aggressively slicked-back bun, the winged khol eyes, more of those ruby lips. In conducting a rudimentary image search of Anna, you’ll see she always dresses in strict variations of these themes: red, high-collared shirt with sharp shoulder tailoring; severe bun; high-waisted black pants; fetish stilettos. Voila! So stringent (and effective!) is her style as a performer that when her hair is seen in loose curls, it doesn’t feel right.

Her Italian roots make it easy for her to “pass,” but Calvi is not Spanish, though she has adopted a distinctly Spanish style of dress. Flamenco dresses are traditionally red, white and black, polka-dotted, and elaborately ruffled. The graphic qualities all these elements enhance effectively emphasizes the motion of the dancer, as does the common use of asymmetrical or uneven ruffles which inherently imply movement, even in moments of rest:


Fringed shawls heighten this effect,

The fringed flapper dresses of the 1920s borrowed the shawl fringe and layered it instead over full dresses; this was hugely informed by the popularization of athletic dances like the Charleston, which looked even more marvelous when executed by flappers draped in motion-enhancing fringe. I cannot over-emphasize how jerky these dance crazes were; see the hilarious proof yourself (around minute 2, there is a be-fringed woman shaking vigorously):

Unlike the ’20s, which was possibly the first decade youth led a widespread fashion revolution, an interesting characteristic of Flamenco distinguishing it from other dance forms where the nubile are strongly favored (and generally retire in middle age), youth are considered too immature to convey the emotional depth, wisdom, and pain expected of Flamenco performers, whose peaks generally start where other dancers’ end; often performing beyond their 50s. Though frilly, Flamenco dresses generally have some gravitas too.

Christian Dior made use of beading to create a trompe l’oeil layered Flamenco-inspired dress from 1952, with only alludes to the external ruffles, even as the silhouette remained typical of the 1950’s New Look:

Dior Flamenco dress, 1952

As the wonderful recent exhibition Balenciaga: Spanish Master at New York’s Spanish Institute pointed out, that designer frequently looked to his Spanish roots for inspiration, and many of his dresses, though perfectly indicative of the time in which they were created (puffy skirts and graphic prints were common in the ’60s), they undeniably incorporated red, polka-dots, and lots of ruffles. In this example, he’s flipped the ruffles to the inner layer, as petticoats (the photo doesn’t capture the vaginal pink of those ruffles):

Mary Jane Russell in Balenciaga Flamenco dress, 1951

The late Alexander McQueen devoted an entire collection to “The Dance of the Twisted Bull,” conflating Spanish dancing traditions with the footwork of bullfighters (not all were this literal, but I happen to particularly love how the train has turned into a defeated flag of sorts):

Alexander McQueen Spring / Summer 2002

Though not from the same collection (in fact, from a shipwreck-themed one of Spring/Summer 2003), McQueen’s famous “Oyster Dress,” now exhibited in the Met’s spectacular Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, is clearly speaking from the Flamenco tradition too, with hundreds of layers of silk organza, collapsing the normally stiff ruffles into a softer, destroyed, waterlogged version…

Oyster Dress, Alexander McQueen, SS03

…of a traditional Flamenco dress:

To return to Anna Calvi: her highly stylized, feminine Flamenco makeup flourishes are interestingly contradicted by (male) torero-inspired black slacks and red button-down. Balenciaga famously riffed on this too:

Balenciaga bullfighter ensemble, 1957

McQueen revived it, in a typically more extreme version:

McQueen bullfighter ensemble, Spring/Summer 2002

Both of which seriously resemble Anna:


Looking at an example of a 21st century interpretation of the cross-dressing, bullfighter / Flamenco dancer drives the point home that we’re ripe for a widespread revival of this look, don’t you agree? May I also suggest that if you come across the opportunity, go see a live Flamenco performance. They are intense like you wouldn’t believe, and you might just get some inspiration from it.

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  • komiska May 26, 2011 06.50 am

    thanks so much for this post on your wonderful blog!

    you might like this one as well, where flamenco takes over the fashion statement of the “haute couture” : http://youtu.be/LJpU_Eqx_zE
    from the documentary “Flamenco women” Mike Figgis 1997

  • Tove Hermanson May 26, 2011 08.03 am

    Thank you so much for that link, Komiska! I failed to mention, but this footage proves, how powerful the singing of Flamenco is too– and I think Anna Calvi channels this intense, almost angry, passion in her facial performances, as well as her costumes.

  • Keren B. June 06, 2011 11.09 am

    Tove, thanks for a truly wonderful post! I’ve been obsessed with flamenco as early as I can remember myself. The music, voices, costume and characters are inspirational and mesmerizing. I was very lucky a couple of years ago to stumble upon a traditional Flamenco show in a small bar at the south of Spain. Even though I did not understand a word I cried most of the show.

  • Keren B. June 07, 2011 09.01 am

    I also recommend the film Vengo and its wonderful soundtrack. Here is a clip


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