In Photos: Queen Of Fallas For A Day
Written by Jaillan Yehia
This isn’t exactly a news flash, but we girls like getting dressed up.
And from the moment I arrived in Valencia I was determined to do one thing (besides eat paella): dress up in the famous Fallas festival costume, and become a Spanish Queen for the day.
And here’s another thing about girls; we already think we’re royalty, and we usually get what we want…
The Spanish city of Valencia oozes history at any time of year, but the hugely historic tradition of the annual Fallas (pronounced F-eye-as) festival has made it famous among travellers.
The legendary March festivities attract up to a million tourists, who come to enjoy the processions, parties and parades and soak up the celebratory atmosphere which permeate every facet of Valencian life for those few days.
All the locals, and particularly the ladies, look forward to donning their finest traditional attire to welcome Spring, in a fiery (‘Las Fallas’ literally means ‘The Fires’) festival which includes everything from fireworks, bonfires and firecrackers to burning figures.
Who Is The Queen OF Fallas?
To say the ornate costumes involved are every girls’ dressing up box dream-come-true is an understatement – and each year one well-dressed woman is crowned the Queen of Fallas (and one little girl is too), which is the ultimate accolade.
Think of it as a beauty pageant with brains, a catwalk with class and an excuse to try on clothes, complete with copious amounts of tradition.
The first time I ever travelled to Valencia, the Fallas were wrapping up, but on this visit it was all just about to start – making it the perfect time to meet the real Queen of Fallas – the lady behind the most ornate dresses in Spain.
Behind The Scenes With The Real Queen of Fallas
As I chat to Amparo Fabra in her impossibly delightful atelier in a cute downtown neighbourhood, the great and the good of Valencian society are constantly coming and going down tiny and ornately-tiled corridors carrying bags positively bulging with big dresses.
I feel like I’ve been ushered into a secret, and oh so enthralling world, and one where women are very much in their element.
Everything around me is so pretty, girlie and delicate that I want to do something suitably girlish in response like squeal with delight or jump up and down. Instead I just photograph everything.
Ampara herself is a petite and perfectly put together lady, and you don’t doubt for a moment that when it comes to the art of selecting the ideal pattern, colour and style for the dress of your dreams, her knowledge is encyclopedic, her judgement impeccable and her opinion formidable. She’s the Anne Robinson of her realm.
Then finally the moment I have been waiting for. I am asked if I’d like to wear one of the costumes myself? I’m about to ask if the Pope is Catholic, but I realise where I am, and simply beam and say ‘Of course’.
She quickly beckons an able assistant who produces a dress in my size (my size being, and I quote ‘big’. I think she means tall, language barriers and stuff. I try not to dwell on it).
As if by magic the dress happens to be in my perfect palette (I’m all about earth colours) – and we begin the process of dressing me up like a real Reina.
While being helped into hooped underskirts (new goal: having someone to help me into my clothes every day) I learn more about the incredibly specific traditions behind these costumes and the pride which with they are worn.
There are two different styles of dress it turns out – 18th or 19th century: 19th Century style sees the top tucked inside the skirt and 18th Century style means it remains outside.
For each there’s a matching style of shoe, as well as the perfect jewellery and hairstyle: it really all has to be just so.
I’m told by Ampara that this is time to break out the good jewellery – the stuff you keep in your safety deposit box, ideally heritage jewellery that has been passed down for generations.
In fact the dresses themselves are investment pieces; and she explains that while most women would expect to pay a few thousand Euros for a wedding dress that they’ll wear only once (we hope), these costumes will be worn each year for the rest of your life and possibly handed down to your daughter and granddaughter.
So on a cost per wear basis the dresses are worth every cent – handy when the minimum spend is €3000. For this reason it’s popular to buy extra pieces when you commission the main dress, because getting things to match later is virtually impossible.
I finally ask Ampara how many dresses she thinks are in here right now. ‘Oof’ she exclaims in a terribly European fashion and does a calculation in her head before saying ‘well soon there will be half as many, and after March 12th there will be none!’
The Fabled Fallas Dresses In Figures
1 – The number of months it takes a single person to make a bespoke Fallas dress
3 – The number in months of work put in by one person to make the fabric for a single Fallas dress
7 – The number of days in which a dress can be made if an entire team work together
12 – The number in metres of fabric required to make a Fallas dress
15 – The date in March each year when Fallas begins
18 & 19 – The Centuries from which Fallas dress designs are inspired – down to every detail including shoes and accessories
24 – The number of hours per day spent celebrating Fallas – firecrackers can be heard at all hours!
200 – The starting price in Euros of the fabric required for a Fallas dress
3,000 – The number of Euros you would need to set aside to have your very own high quality Fallas dress
6,000 – The average number of stitches in the dress fabric
Fallas runs each year from March 15-19
Amparo Fabra‘s shop is at 14 Maestro Gozalbo, Valencia
Savoirthere visited Valencia as part of The Travel Mob project in association with Valencia Tourism – you can follow the project on social media and learn more about Valencia via the hashtag #VivaValencia
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