Last week saw the official launch of Monocle’s first standalone Travel Guide Series: London and New York are now out, with Hong Kong and Tokyo to follow in August. And while the past month for me has been all about last-minute edits and signing off the final proofs of the next two, you’ll be pleased to hear that I did have time for a breather. I visited Madrid and our correspondent there, Liam Aldous, to join him in his pursuit of the best hotels, hidden bars and quirky venues that the Spanish capital has to offer for the fifth instalment of the series.
While scouting the cobbled streets in unusually high mid-May temperatures of nearly 40C, one thing hit me as bright and clear as the scorching sun: retail (from the biggest players to independent, small-scale ventures) is alive and kicking in the city. Whether it’s the well-off Salamanca neighbourhood or the characterful backstreets of De Las Letras, Madrid is a labyrinth of shops with more and more smaller retailers supporting a new wave of Spanish craftsmanship and focusing on locally made design.
So alongside fast-fashion chain Zara, its sister companies Massimo Dutti and Bershka, and luxury names such as Loewe, sits evidence of the returning entrepreneurial spirit of post-crisis Spain. There’s an increasing diversification of local retail, much of it proudly waving the flag of “Made in Spain”. Besides somewhat established brands Masscob and Steve Mono, younger designers are making a name for themselves in the capital, such as Andres Gallardo with an atelier-cum-shop in the bohemian Tirso de Molina. Gallardo, whose handcrafted porcelain pendants are now also sold at Paul Smith in London, joins a stable of designers who’ve been regenerating Spain’s porcelain industry by adding a contemporary twist to a centuries-old tradition.
Alongside Gallardo is Helena Rohner, who sells her unique tableware and porcelain jewellery out of a snug showroom on the cobbled Calle del Almendro. Rubbing shoulders with the two of them is young Álvaro Ruiz of Guantes Luque, a glove shop and manufacturer that has been in business since 1896. Ruiz, a member of the fourth generation of this family business, managed to keep the tiny atelier afloat despite the country’s recent economic turmoil by producing and selling small batches of his intricate designs to ensure steady sales.
The strategy of keeping retail small and in the family seems to be paying off for the likes of Rohner, Ruiz and Gallardo, and it might be soon catching on elsewhere in Spain: the latest stats from March show a nearly 3 per cent rise in retail sales, helping the Spanish economy grow at one of the fastest rates in the EU.
So it seems like good news for the economy, for shoppers and for Monocle’s forthcoming guide to Madrid. After all, we are interested in telling good news stories, big and small, from our favourite cities around the world. Be sure to pick up your copy!
Nelly Gocheva is Monocle’s books & series editor.