or decades now, the decadence of the former district of the Ribera del Rec Comtal, as El Born was formerly known, has been left behind. Every day, tourists visit the .the Santa Maria del Mar church, dubbed the Cathedral of the Sea in the eponymous novel, the Fossar de les Moreres, the old cemetery where the defenders of Barcelona against the 18th century Bourbon armies lie, and the Picasso Museum. Hence, in the Passeig del Born and in the streets adjacent to the Pla de Palau, a series of luxury boutiques, both multi-brand and own label, have opened, looking to attract foreign customers rather than the locals.
However, in the inner alleyways opening onto Carrer de l’Argenteria, there were at the time a number of empty premises that, having rather more affordable rents, were taken up by small fashion shops run by very young people. “After studying Fashion Design at the IED–Istituto Europeo di Design in Barcelona, I worked for a while in several stores, but I wanted to have a go of it myself, making my own selection of brands and also selling my own creations” explains Carola Alexandre, who runs Ivori (Carrer dels Mirallers, 7). Her shop stocks both clothing and footwear, all made in and around Barcelona. That is the premise that distinguishes her brand. She sells hand-made Naguisa espadrilles, renowned worldwide, Levens ceramic earrings designed by actress Mar del Hoyo, casual brands like Rita Row and Vergudo, and above all, the pieces created every season by Carola herself.
Alexandre is clear that what she sells has nothing to do with low-cost or passing fads. Limited edition pieces, organic fabrics, comfortable designs. Clothing that emanates lifestyle and, although it also attracts tourists—the area is on a route visiting graffiti murals to be seen in the area for years now—thanks to price and quality it is also on the native Barcelonians’ radar, as is Colmado The Shop (Carrer del Brosolí, 5), opened a few days later by Susana Rey-Pleguezuelos who graduated as a designer at the Felicidad Duce school. “El Born breathes crafts and tradition, and has always been an artisans’ neighbourhood. That’s why I wanted to set up there and sell little known brands, and my own, which carries my second surname.” Pleguezuelos is also a limited edition brand, sold alongside Heinui, an exclusive in Barcelona and which is all the rage in the States, Pale Swimwear, and Nude Label, as well as others. All are firmly committed to the environment and also to putting quality before anything else. Susana has now expanded her business a men’s section, which features Portuguese firm La Paz, calling to two fundamental traditions of the neighbouring country: the sea and textiles.
“I recall when I was looking for a place to set up and I just saw that a shop specializing in lomography—a photographic technique—had opened here, I thought that whoever appreciates yesteryear’s techniques would appreciate my clothes.” The Lomography Embassy Barcelona store (Carrer d’en Rosic, 3) continues selling the mythical Holga, Diana cameras and other, along with their accessories. At the helm is Ramon Jimenez, who proves that being a good shopkeeper means listening to your customers and seeing what is best for them, and not selling them the most expensive item. You need to think that you need them to come back, to speak well of you. Word of mouth is precisely what has made the businesses in these alleyways a corner where trade breathes its very meaning: communication, service, exchange of goods, ideas and sentiment.
Right by these three establishments we find two ateliers: Après Ski (Carrer dels Vigatans, 11) by jeweller Lucía Vergara, who paints her creations on a large wooden table that can be seen through the large windows of her studio, and that of Iriarte-Iriarte (Carrer dels Cotoners, 12) by Carolina Iriarte, which makes handbags and other leather goods that have appeared in the world’s great fashion magazines. Very thought-out designs, with a wink at the worlds of literature and cinema. Carolina’s pieces respond to a very specific philosophy: “When objects are made by people—by hand, one by one, with care and attention—they contain thousands of small decisions and minute variations that are determining factors. In these intervals—between the catalogue design and the singularity of the individual piece—the secret lies in the creation of living objects.” Both Carolina and Lucia have opted for the atelier-shop, thus making access to their work easier and showing that what they offer for sale is the result of hours of work with a protracted prior apprenticeship, as for any trade.
Tradition and modernity. This duality finds in this area of El Born one of its finest examples. It is also the seedbed of the professional success of many novel designers who flee from the big corporations and so-called fast-fashion. As expressed by Juan Salvadó, the co-founder of Moschino in the nineties alongside Franco Moschino, and currently a dissertation advisor at IED Barcelona (where, coincidentally, he advised Carola Alexandre on her final collection): “Those who are graduating now in Fashion Design can only compete with the big brands with capsule collections, taking care of all the details, with hand-finished and quality fabrics. Perhaps setting up on their own is difficult, but they can share a studio or sell together and thus reduce expenses… That way, they will surely find a niche for themselves in the market.”
For the time being, and along with other stores such as La Clinique or La Tercera Shop which also follow the same principles, many young creators have infused the air that you breathe in El Born with art and design as nowhere else in Barcelona. We hope that this spirit will be contagious and will spread with the same other to other locations in Barcelona.