Centuries of tradition, hours of sewing and at least a kilo of sequins go into making the matador's glittering 'suit of lights'. Two of Madrid's most famous tailers to the stars are Maestra Nati and
Maestra Nati has set her own female stamp on the male-dominated world of corrida. She is the only woman sastre or tailor producing the brilliant suits worn by the big stars of the bullfight.
She learnt her trade from her mother and says: "When I started it was very, very hard. Bullfighting is a very 'machista world' and I had to fight ever step of the way to get accepted."
The business was founded in 1939, and her small workshop in c/Jardines in central Madrid is now an established stop-off for all the big names of the bullfighting circuit. The workshop itself is like a museum, with pictures of ring greats hanging alongside paintings by American torero John Fulton.
"This family has always been involved with the corrida," explains Enrique, her son and business director of the firm. "My mother married a torero, Enrique Vera, who became famous in films
like Tarde de Toros where he starred opposite Sara Montiel. I was also a matador for eight years, and afterwards I wanted to remain in the same world in some way or other. Now when I make a suit, I try to put all I remember of being a torero into it.
"At Maestra Nati we make everything except the bull!" he laughs, bringing out three suits, each more brilliant than the last. "An average suit of lights takes seven people working seven or eight
hours a day for around 25 days to make. There are different workers for each part, the sequins, the cord, the jacket, the trousers, the waistcoast, the stones, the gold embroidery, the making-up. It's very timeconsuming because after each stage the cloth must be re-ironed to bring it back into shape."
A suit is a heavyweight creation of satin encrusted with over a kilo of individually stitched-on sequins. It will last a matador 30 afternoons and is then sold to poorer toreros just starting
out. Prices range from 200,000ptas to 350,000ptas and he (or she) will need five or six to take them through a season.
"When it comes to design, some toreros and toreras have a fixed image of what they want," says Enrique. "Others leave it up to us. We have to be very careful. A suit must fit the
person perfectly. Very pale-skinned toreros wouldn't suit pale colours and dark-skinned ones look good with very strong colours like blue. Dominguin [father of famous Spanish singer Miguel
Bosé] was one of the most original designers."
If Maestra Nati is a gifted pioneer, Justo Algaba is a star. He has been making clothing for toreros for 25 years in his shop in c/La Paz in the heart of the city. He boasts that his is the
only tailor's in Spain to have a street-level retail area. Apart from dressing all the great toreros, he has designed clothes for people as diverse as LaToya Jackson, Andy Garcia and Placido
"In this world you have toreros at the top then picadors and further down, sastrerias. I wanted to be involved at some level," he explains. His strength lies in unusual design. "I can
be inspired by the Sistine Chapel or classical legend. We have just produced a cape with a Bacchus theme."
It is obvious that for both Maestra Nati and Justo Algaba, there is much more to the corrida than simply a man fighting a bull.
Montera - the black Astrakhan hat with two ear shapes worn by the bullfighter.
Chaquetilla - the heavily adorned rigid bolero shaped to the back. Tassels called machos hang from the shoulders and the sleeves are cut beneath the armpits to allow freedom of movement.
Taleguilla - the trousers, also heavily adorned and very tight, finish just below the knee where they can be adjusted with more machos. The added sash is purely ornamental.
Medias - finespun pink tights which are usually worn with a white pair underneath.
Machos - the tassels used to adjust the trousers.
Capote de Paseo - beautifully adorned ornamental cape. A second pink and yellow cape is used to fight the bull.
Camisa - frilly white shirt.
Corbatin - fine black tie worn conventionally.
Coleta - the tiny pigtail, a fashion dating from the 17th century is kept by fewer and fewer toreros, most resorting to a false version these days.