We live in a fashion era. Catwalk shows in Paris or Milan draw everyone’s attention with each edition. Everybody wants to know the latest trends. However, far from the frenetic rhythm of the international runway circuit peopled by well-known designers and beautiful models is a different world where people also spend their time thinking about the next dress they will design. This hub of fashion creativity is in an unusual place: l’Hospitalet de Llobregat. And, the designs being conjured up here are not made from anything so mundane as cloth—they will be created in paper.
Since 1986, the Coordinadora de Jubilats de l’Hospitalet has organised a workshop in designing and making paper dresses at the Santa Eulàlia Civic Centre. During the year, and helped by an instructor, workshop participants first make a pattern, then cut the paper and finally sew and decorate it. Currently, 17 women are participating in this workshop. One of them is Paquita Aibar, 85, who has been making paper dresses since the first workshop was held, and her enthusiasm for the dresses is undiminished. “I’m old, I’m slender and they suit me well.”
Paquita explained that the beginning of the manufacturing process is similar to the one used to make traditional cloth dresses. First, the dressmaker has to draw a pattern in order to cut the material with the correct measurements and make it fit together. But, from then on, things change. Following the pattern, the dressmakers cut cloth pieces with strong glue over them. Then, they paste the paper over the clothes. Once the paper is strongly fixed over the cloth, the dressmakers sew the different pieces of the pattern together to complete the desired shape. At this point begins the decorating job. There are countless ways to decorate a dress. Crochet-work, or embroidery are two of the most common, as well as anything made of a strong paper thread. To make it more realistic, models also wear hats, bags and necklaces. Paquita specially remembers a dress made to take part in a famous paper dresses contest in Mollerussa (Lleida).“It was a white dress, sewed with paper thread and embroidered with flowers, branches and drawings made with golden floss.”
Imagination is the limit when it comes to designing the dresses. Some are classic dresses, while others often evoke the roaring Twenties. Over years, the workshop’s participants have explored lots of possibilities, and it has become a popular pastime in l’Hospitalet. Now, the women not only put on their fashion shows in private, but are often called on to hold them in civic centres and hospitals. Even the city council organises a paper dress fashion show. In spite of this success, Paquita’s biggest fear is that “the workshop will finish with us”, because she said young people do not seem interested in it.
Even with a generational shift in what people think of as fun, paper dresses have a long tradition in Catalunya and probably will be made for a long time to come. In Mollerussa, where Paquita took part in a paper dress contest, the 40th Concurs Nacional de Vestits de Paper was held this year, and in Amposta there have been 36 years of contests. In both competitions, only dresses made with paper and sewn together without staples or glue, can take part in the contest. Creativity is the key and there are different categories, such as classic clothes, fantasy or current fashion. Ready to wear and not likely to go out of fashion soon.