Making a living from love

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Talking with fashion designer Rosa Clara, the “Vera Wang of Spain.”


large emerald gleamed on the finger of Rosa Clara. The ancients believed that the emerald was the stone of love. Unlike the red of rubies that ignited carnal passion, emeralds were believed to soothe the soul and provide harmony for a love that would go beyond the wedding and would go on to the grave. It seems appropriate that Ms. Clara should adopt the stone as one of her talismans, as she makes a living from love. Ms. Clara is one of Spain’s eminent fashion designers, best known for her dreamy bridal gowns. Her label has won several awards in her native Spain and in the US. Her stores are located in many corners of the world: North America and Latin America, continental Europe, even here, in the Philippines.

“I started at home. I was very much inspired by my mother: she dressed very nicely; she was very fashionable. So at the very start—I think I was seven, or eight years old—I was doing drawings,” she told High Life through an interpreter.


Ms. Clara found her footing in Barcelona in 1995. Since then, she’s been called the “Vera Wang of Spain,” as if her dresses were de rigueur for a bride, much like the North American designer’s. Barcelona is a city of romance—its passionate, expressive, and unique buildings providing the perfect backdrop for meeting the love of your life, or else a love affair to keep as a lifelong secret. Perhaps this setting provides the romance for Ms. Clara’s designs, but Ms. Clara said with some laughter, “I don’t know if the Spaniards are more romantic or not. I just do know that weddings are very important social events that gather the family.”

“There are many, many weddings held in Spain. I must say, I don’t know if it’s the most important day in the life of a woman, but definitely, it’s one of the most important days of her life,” she added.

Long beaded cocktail dress with low back, in nude, silver and sand. Photo courtesy of Rosa Clara.

Rosa Clara dresses are displayed in a shop, and a bride seeks out her favorite. Brides-to-be can come in to the store as walk-ins, or they may set an appointment. After the bride has selected a dress, her measurements are taken and then the dress is ordered from the main office in Spain.

The whole process takes four to six months. Brides may also choose one of the dresses off the rack and an in-house tailoring team, trained by their counterparts in Spain, can tailor-fit the off-the-rack dress on the brides, and even add extra details like beading and embroidery, or make minor changes to lengths and necklines.

When asked if using an off-the-rack dress as a template somehow diminishes the fairy tale-like quality of a wedding wherein the bride is the only star, Ms. Clara disagreed: “I don’t think that by wearing an off-the-rack dress, you’re living someone else’s wedding.”

“I think that the women of today have less time, are very discerning, and are used to trying things and saying if they like them or not, if it suits them or not. So why not wedding dresses?” The process, she continued, isn’t as simple as snatching several dresses off the rack and purchasing the first one that fits. Rather, an entire team—composed of a bridal consultant, and a seamstress, among other people—guides the bride-to-be and helps her make an informed choice. “They will walk with her. They will enlighten her. They will extract what is in her,” she said. The final dress, she said with confidence, “will actually be the one she was dreaming of all her life.”

Beaded chiffon and lace dress, in natural. Photo courtesy of Rosa Clara.

A gown displayed on a form or a mannequin, will, of course, drape differently on a living, breathing woman. What should happen if the dress of your dreams turns you into a bit of a nightmare? Ms. Clara declared this an impossibility. “The bride will be as pretty as she is with a dress that she’s compatible with, and she’s happy with. If she’s happy and she’s confident, she’ll be the best possible bride.” She added, “We must remember: ultimately, it’s her wedding, it’s her dress. She chooses.”

Ms. Clara became a bride herself in 2013—sometime in her 50s. A design based on her wedding dress, a mature long-sleeved confection inspired by the Art Deco movement, is a staple in Rosa Clara’s catalogue. When asked if her romantic life influences any of her work in fashion, she said, “I don’t think that my personal life, whether single or married, was an important factor. I think what makes me creative is working with a very young and passion-driven team.”

The meaning of marriage has changed for the times. The brand, since its founding in 1995, has seen the global incidence of marriage decrease and the average age of marriage increase. In Ms. Clara’s native Spain, the average age at first marriage has increased by eight years from 1981 to 2013, going from 25.2 to 33.2 years, according to data from the Spanish Statistical Office. Spain, too, was among the first nations to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005 in a law characterized by the New York Times as “among the most liberal.”

For anyone who wishes to get married in a wedding gown, Rosa Clara is there, ready to make the bride the dress of her dreams. “Working as we work in the whole planet, with all types and definitions of marriage and family… I think that what really matters in this case is that it’s a special day. And for the special occasion, you have to be at your best.”