Underwire: September 2020 Fashion vs Fascism

There are certainly days, these days, when I come up for air, look at the state of the nation, and think—“bras, bras, lacy panties, waist cinchers, garters and bras… really? Does my life have a meaningful shape? Or only my torso?” But then I tell myself, “Hush, Jenette. Your profession is a worthy one.”
I’ve told this story before about one of our lingerie vendors, Andrés Sardá, but it bears repeating. It was in March of 1962 when photographs of Jackie Kennedy meeting the Pope in a lace mantilla by Familia Sardá were splashed across Sunday papers and picture magazines around the world.

Andrés had recently taken control of his father’s renowned lace manufacturing business and this publicity was like a benediction. His enjoyment was short-lived. Only seven months later, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council to address relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. Catholic women had been starting to chafe at their secondary status in the church, symbolized by the requirement to wear the veil in services. Now, with the advent of Vatican II, the writing was on the wall: the mantilla was dead, Jackie or no Jackie. The primary market for Sardá lace evaporated almost overnight. It was time for, as they say in Spain, el pivot.

It was over two decades into the authoritarian rule of Francisco Franco (he would reign unchallenged until his death in 1975). The grip of the state was looser in the ‘60s than it had been in the war years, but Spain was still a repressive society, especially for women. Nevertheless, a scent of liberation was in the air of the world, and Sardá felt a sense of the unspoken desires of women.

Núria Sardá, Jenette, and Aaron in Barcelona

He turned the company 180 degrees, from traditional garments of outward submission to groundbreaking lingerie of secret rebellion. The Sardá style was, and is, playful, emotional, and quintessentially Spanish. Textile advances allowed for new and daring cuts. Even the old family lace patterns were scrapped. Núria Sardá—Andrés daughter, then collaborator, and now Design Director for the firm—explained to me that one of the only free places for women and men was in the privacy of home. Sardá lingerie was a brilliant flare in the intimate spaces of those dark years. A private resistance. Little fires in the bedrooms of the people… who knows how they might spread?