MADRID — The Spanish capital is gearing up for what the press here calls “the steel wedding.”

Saturday’s nuptials of Crown Prince Felipe de Borbón, Prince of Asturias, and Letizia Ortiz will be under heavy guard by NATO aircraft, a first for the Brussels-based organization, and Madrid airspace will close for an unspecified period of time. The matrimonial Rolls-Royce has been fitted with bulletproof glass and the guest list, expected to include hundreds of European royals and international dignitaries, is under wraps until the night before the ceremony.

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The heightened security measures are in response to the March 11 multiple terrorist bombings at Madrid train stations.

Even though Spain has waited for years for the prince to take a bride — with some wondering whether it would ever happen — the terrorist attacks have put a damper on wedding revelry. The prince and Ortiz canceled all social events — except a gala dinner for 400 guests to be hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia the night before the ceremony, and the following day’s bridal lunch.

Two of Spain’s most innovative chefs, Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak, are helming the kitchen for the gala dinner, to be held in the 16th-century El Pardo Palace on the outskirts of Madrid. They have six Michelin stars between them at their respective restaurants, El Bulli on the Costa Brava and Arzak in the Basque country, so expect some inspired cooking — frothy dishes with vaporous foam and tapas-sized dishes from Adrià and a sturdier, more traditional fare from Arzak.

The bridal lunch for 1,400 will take place steps from the Almudena Cathedral, where the royal couple will tie the knot at noon, in the courtyard of the Royal Palace and under what will purportedly be the largest tent in the world. Madrid’s stalwart Jockey restaurant will be in charge of the food, including a lengthy apertivo prior to the lunch.

But the Spanish monarchy has never had the glitz or profile of the Windsors, and the wedding of the 36-year-old Felipe was always going to be a lower-key affair than that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. So forget about seeing Victoria and David Beckham, who now plays soccer for Real Madrid. Instead expect slews of long-named royals from throughout Europe — after all, they waste no nuptial opportunity to get together and gossip — as well as crowds of Spanish socialites unrecognized outside the pages of Hola!.

Even the bride-to-be’s choice of dress designer indicates the ceremony is more a local than international one. Forget Chanel, Dior, Valentino or Lacroix. Ortiz has chosen Barcelona designer Manuel Pertegaz, who hasn’t had a major international profile since the Seventies.

While there has been a lid on most wedding gossip, a few snippets have surfaced about the bride’s dress. According to published reports, the dress is in ivory silk (secretly woven in the dead of night) by Valencia-based textile producer, Catalá. It’s high on the back of the neck with a modest décolleté, elbow-length sleeves without buttons, a voluminous skirt and long train. Pertegaz has said the basic silhouette will be “simple and slightly austere, that’s Letizia’s style.” He has also commented on her figure, “fragile, but not her character.” There is a good chance her shoes will be by domestic manufacturer Pura Lopez.

As for bridesmaids, none of those details have been released yet. There hasn’t even been a whisper on whether the couple will have a honeymoon.

In the Sixties and early Seventies, the diminutive Pertegaz, who is 86, dressed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn. On a local level, his loyal ladies included Queen Sofia, (who certainly had a hand in the selection) and Countess Aline Romanones. Pertegaz was the first Spanish designer to sell to the U.S. — to Lord & Taylor in 1964. Pertegaz did not return calls seeking comment.

The groom will dress in a navy blue military uniform with antique gold trim by royal tailor Cecilio Serna. His mother, Queen Sofia, will wear a floor-sweeper, in pastel Italian silk, with a traditional neutral-colored lace mantilla, said veteran designer Margarita Nuez, who has dressed the Spanish monarch for 15 years. The queen never wears gloves, and she is the only person allowed to wear a long dress and mantilla at the ceremony, according to the dictates of Spanish protocol. Who knows, though — Spanish shop windows are filled with mantillas, so the rules could be broken come wedding day.

As for who’s dressing whom, it’s hard to tell because nobody’s talking officially. There are a few leaks, though. For instance, veteran designer Jesús del Pozo, who’s known for his unexpected color combinations and architectural shapes, has been tapped by Infanta Cristina, duchess of Palma De Mallorca and the groom’s sister, for both the gala and the wedding, and by Alexia of Greece, a royal cousin and daughter of King Constantine. The king is Sofia’s brother, so you better believe the former Greek royal family will be on hand — including the U.S.-based Princess Marie-Chantal and her husband, Pavlos, who was Felipe’s roommate at Georgetown.

Roberto Torretta, known for his razor-sharp, sexy cuts and pretty prints, will dress Ana Botella, wife of ex-Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, and Elena Benarroch, luxury retailer and Walter Steiger’s Spanish partner, will orchestrate the wardrobe of Sonsoles Zapatero, wife of new Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

In addition, Madrid’s talented milliner Candela Cort is making hats for about 35 guests, a spokeswoman said. They will be one-of-a kind headpieces in a variety of lightweight materials and colors like fuchsia and lavender, she added.

For whatever reason and in a nod to the late Princess Diana the Spanish press has been calling the future queen of Spain “Lady Leti.” Letizia is a mature 31 and, yes, she’s a commoner — a divorced one at that. But nobody seems to care, partially because her first marriage was a civil ceremony and without the blessing of the Catholic Church. Reportedly, the 36-year-old heir to the Spanish throne told his parents that they’d better go along his marrying Ortiz or he’d hang up the job. Publicly, they’re “delighted” with the match.

Felipe, who is 6-foot-5 and handsome, always said he would marry for love, meaning regardless of whether his wife has royal blood or not. In the past, he has squired Spanish aristocrat Isabel Sartorius, American Gigi Howard and Norwegian model Eva Sannum. The Spanish public gasped at the latter — imagine, an underwear model from Norway on the throne of Spain. It would certainly seem the prince has found his media-naranja, as the expression goes (literally half-an-orange, figuratively, significant other.) He has said more than once that he is smitten by Letizia’s “intelligence and courage.”

Ortiz — who will be the first Spanish-born queen since 1879 and the first non-royal to wed an heir to the Spanish throne — is no pushover, it seems, and she is considered normalisima, meaning she had a job like the rest of the commoner world. The daughter of a respected journalist in the north of Spain, Ortiz has a degree in Information sciences from the Complutense University in Madrid and worked for Spain’s daily, monarchist newspaper ABC, with stints at the EFE news agency and the financial TV channel Bloomberg. She was covering the Prestige oil spill in northern Spain for Televisión Española when she fell for the prince, who was on the coast offering condolences. Fittingly, Letizia, who is from the northern region of Asturias, becomes princess of Asturias after her marriage.

Meanwhile, an epic production, by high-profile interior decorator Pascua Ortega is under way to beautify the city. Between the thousands of flowers, banners, flags, pendants and balcony hangings, Madrid looks like “Camelot without Robert Taylor,” groused a disgruntled observer.

The prolific Ortega — he’s replaced Portuguese architect Duarte Pinto Coelho in Spanish affections, they say — designs private homes, embassies (including the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C.), hotels, restaurants, even a perfume house (Myrurgia in Barcelona). For the royal occasion, his choice of colors includes pink, from pale to fuchsia; silver; ochre and white.

“I want Madrid to bloom like a spring flower in the late afternoon,” Ortega opined.

Not everyone agrees, though. “Madrid’s beautiful emblematic buildings covered in all those tacky lights and colors,” one fashion observer moaned. “The city looks like a circus.”

— Barbara Barker

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