Oscar de la Renta and André Leon Talley spoke of the artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida with such gusto Tuesday night at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute that guests could have thought both men were new to his work.

This story first appeared in the January 19, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

They, of course, were not, having devoted a good deal of the past seven months to finessing “Joaquín Sorolla & The Glory of Spanish Dress,” which is on view through March 10. De la Renta, who plays a very active role in the institute as its chairman, and Talley, who curated the show, described some of their findings and discussed Spain’s enduring influence on fashion, during a discussion organized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Lauren Santo Domingo, Amy Tan, Malia Mills, Gemma Kahng and Kay Unger were among the fashion types who breezed through the private viewing. Afterward, de la Renta said he and the Costume Institute’s Harold Koda had initially discussed the idea of staging an exhibition about how Spain’s traditional clothing influenced clothing in the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but there was not enough space. The designer then decided to focus on Sorolla, whose intent was to document each region’s distinct dress and ornamentation as a way to help preserve the country’s heritage. Although the Hispanic Society of America has a staggering collection, de la Renta reached out to a number of other museums to help put the show together. The artist’s masterful “El Jaleo,” a massive painting on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, had to be overlooked, due to its size.

As for what has made the Sorolla exhibition gratifying to de la Renta, he said, “The appreciation of the people has really been tremendous.”

During a 10-day stay in Spain, which included many hours at the Museo Sorolla and the Museo del Traje, Talley said the highlight was finding the 300 pieces of clothing and jewelry that Sorolla had bought for his subjects to wear in his paintings. “To see all those costumes displayed on a table for us to look at in the museum’s basement was an incredible moment. To see how they preserved the clothes he had purchased was very much an anthropological, Margaret Mead moment,” he said. “It was painful to edit, but we have some wonderful pieces.”

The exhibition spans three floors and features 10 paintings with 30 pieces of men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. As Talley indicated in the exhibition notes printed on one wall of an upstairs gallery that showcases a few contemporary designers, Christian Lacroix once said, “Spain has been by my side in every collection.”

On Jan. 25 at the Hispanic Society of America, de la Renta will sit down with executive director Mitchell Codding to discuss Sorolla’s “Vision of Spain” mural, which the artist completed there in 1919.

As well-received as the Spanish Institute’s show has been, de la Renta is already plotting the next one there, which will be about Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo for the Park Avenue space. “Most people think he was Venetian, but he was Spanish. His father was also a very famous painter,” de la Renta said. “He not only created the unmistakable Fortuny pleats but he also developed the technique so that the silk would always remain pleated. He created a tremendous amount of fabrics.”

Talley also is at work on a new exhibition for the Savannah College of Art & Design, which named a wing in his honor in its museum that opened last fall. With his inaugural effort, “High Society,” up and running, the Vogue-r is crafting “The Little Black Dress,” a contemporary take on that iconic staple. “It will be a very original view of the modern little black dress as a uniform, a coat of armor and a point of style,” he said.

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