Loisaida: Where Objects and Fashion Explain the Past
21 March, 2016
Ten years on from its establishment, Loisaida attracts tourists from around the world and enthusiasts of unique and singular objets d’art. Here they find fashion pieces chosen with love.
On an antique table lies a copy of El Corte Parisien, Sistema Martí, written by Carmen Martí de Missé in 1916. In a nearby display case – the glass and wood don’t hide the fact that for many years it has protected objects of admiration from the passage of time – there is an early 20th-century silver fastener sparkling in all its glory. The display case is no doubt home to the most valuable pieces. Next to the shelf above, there is an adornment from the late 18th century, made from jet and mother of pearl. Alongside it is a photo album from a slightly later period with a small handwritten note saying “Photo album from the late 19th century also able to store weapons, half photos/half box. €250”. Accompanied by the piped music that plays inside Loisaida, we end up in front of a Barça case with a picture of the team’s legendary player from the Fifties, László Kubala. Nearby is an original ball from the 1930 Uruguay World Cup. These latter objects lead you to suspect that the area you are now in is turned over to goods for men: a cocktail shaker, a musical cigar case and a clothing stand replete with shirts, trousers, sweaters and jacket.
“If you look carefully, you’ll see there’s no rhyme or reason to it, there’s a bit of everything, but they are all very special objects.” The words of Loisaida founder Enric Vivas conceal the fact that the order in the store has been put by him, making a personal selection that distinguishes objects with a spirit of a common past. With Loisaida, Vivas uses original pieces to narrate the history of the fashions, trends, cultures and values that have emerged in our society from the 1920s onwards. “They are things that catch your attention. We have over a thousand objects on sale, including a very special antique books collection,” he says, sitting in front of the Loisaida dressing rooms.
The wooden chairs from where he recalls how this concept-store project came about may in the 1940s have been found in the movie theatre of a town or city in Catalonia. The clothing patterns, made from brown paper, filled with jottings and hanging from the walls in the dressing room area, may have been the first step in a Barcelona fashion designer’s gown. “When I started out, I had display cases full of objects that didn’t sell. But this is a business. I find it hard to part with any of the objects, because each reminds me of a trip, a place, or a time I was going through when I bought it. But when people come and enquire about the price, you remember that you do have to make a sale. Everything in the store can be bought,” he says, with his eye on an early 20th-century cash register which has just a single wooden drawer and a role of paper where the sales were jotted down by hand. “If you like antiques, you can spend hours here,” he says.
History on top of history
Enric Vivas decided to open Loisaida in a commercial property on carrer Flassaders in Barcelona’s Born neighbourhood in 2005. The building 1441, on the same street, had once been the city’s mint, known by the name La Seca. The mint’s stable is the site that Loisaida has occupied for the past 10 years. “It all began with a dream of mine. When I was 20 years old I started working as a shop assistant, then as the manager, then the head of purchasing and finally the head of a chain of stores with around 15 establishments. From then on, my professional career was targeted at the world of design and I began to work for the Peyton, Meyba and Pulligan group, where I was product manager. But the small business-owner inside me began to emerge and I started to look for the right time. In 2005 I took the project forwards. I had spent many years turning the idea over in my head. I wanted it to be a shop that did something different. I wanted it to be so special that it needed a space that was special, too,” he explains.
The beginnings “weren’t good. The store made a loss for the first five years.” Vivas remembers that people around him didn’t believe the project would work. His conviction, enthusiasm and “the complicity of providers offered me a breathing space in the early years”. As he recalls, “They liked the project I was starting up and trusted in it, because they saw my enthusiasm. They left products on deposit, gave me time to make payments and let me give back stuff that wasn’t working. They helped a great deal, which is why I try to do the same today with companies that are just starting out and that I like”.
Fashion and music selection
At Loisaida, “the products and store are more important than the brands”. That’s why the fashion selection on display doesn’t depend on seasonal trends, but rather criteria that Vivas applies to creating his offering. “I would say I take on anything that is surprising. I don’t care about much about fashion per se. I look for products that I like. The store is above fashion. If I don’t like the products that brands sell I don’t buy them, even if they are world-renowned”.
The outcome of this condition are items of clothing designed and manufactured close to home, in Catalonia, Spain and Europe. Brands known for their quality craftsmanship and design, such as Sita Murt, are found alongside small up-and-coming firms like Bjovuit and Pou Nou. They all form part of the Loisaida selection, which attempts to negotiate exclusive sales in the city and stocks only one piece in each size.
The fashionwear on sale becomes part of a whole, mixed with other objects and firms, handbags and music, which envelopes the whole of the store. “It took us six years to get a record label to make this music collection for us. It features jazz, boleros, 1950s New York lounge music, Italian songs and Cuban music. A bit of everything, but always the first edition of the song. Roberto Valcàrcel, from Vintage Music, made the collection. He got together all the original period records, cleaned the sound and edited them. You do ask yourself ‘all that work just to sell things here?’ Well yes, because it is very special and we also sell more records than you’d think,” Vivas enthuses, standing in the area that the Loisaida record collection occupies. The selection of musical styles, like the in-store selection, pays homage to a cultural melting pot. As, indeed, does the name of the store – ‘Lo-ee-sigh-da’ is the way Hispanics pronounce ‘Lower East Side’, for the neighbourhood of New York.