Article by Vivion O’Kelly
Perhaps because Andalucía is located on the edge of the European continent, and is so famous for its ancient architecture and traditions, relaxed way of life and natural beauty, many of us tend not to think of it as also being a leader in the manufacture of luxury goods. But let’s put Paris and Milan to one side for a moment to take a look at what is actually made in Andalucia and sent far and wide to the rest of the world. We’ve picked out just five areas of luxury goods that may change erroneous perceptions. These are gastronomy, jewellery, fashion, leather work and furniture making, which is not to say there are many more.
Some are old, some are new, some use skills handed down over centuries, some are the product of creativity and innovation, and all are a clear reflection of what Andalucía can now offer the world at large. We start with the most ancient: gastronomy.
1-CAVIAR DE RIOFRIO
Travelling the main Malaga-Granada motorway, just a few kilometres before reaching Loja, brings you down a long hill and into the Riofrío valley and the upper end of the town of the same name. If the weather on the coast has been blistering hot, this is a good place for a pit stop, because as you might have guessed, it’s relatively cold here. This is also the home of the Caviar de Riofrio company, which is one of the principal sturgeon aquaculture breeders in Europe and the first to have been awarded an organic certification for caviar.
The company was founded in 1963 by a Navarre doctor and his two partners, who were attracted by a natural water source at a year-round temperature of between 14 and 15 degrees centigrade, ideal for the most natural breeding of the Adriatic sturgeon. This species had been native to the same Guadalquivir basin for centuries, the karst structure of the mountains having too many sinkholes for agricultural, human or cattle activity, which meant that the waters were, and still are, free of pesticides and fertilizers that would adversely affect its properties. In fact, one of the main industries in nearby Loja is the production of bottled mineral water.
This makes the caviar farmed in Riofrío a product appreciated by gourmets all over the world, sold in the most exclusive delicatessen shops and acquired by numerous Michelin-starred chefs. The next time you order, if you really want to impress your restaurant guest, do it in Spanish, not Russian. And you could give her a piece of luxury jewellery as well.
Hard rock in heavy metal. It may sound like a four-piece combo that makes a lot of noise, but if the rock – more specifically a mineral – is hard enough, the metal precious enough and the design good enough, you have something that qualifies as luxury. The Sensi Joyas company, based in Granada, uses a lot of it in their exclusive, hand-made jewellery collections.
The name is that of the better half of the Sensi Villalba/Vicente Martín team, husband Vicente being a recognised diamond expert for many decades and Sensi being a jewellery designer before they established their own company in Madrid in 1995. With the right combination of tradition and innovative design, using the best materials available, it did not take long for their work to become recognised throughout the world, and now, with their own factory in Italy and retail outlet in Granada, they export worldwide.
They have won awards in a number of international jewellery fairs, including the Vogue awards at the Kara Fair in the Louvre in Paris, and their collections feature in many top-end magazines throughout the fashion world.
A piece of Sensi jewellery is probably an intricate design in a fairly simple setting, clearly influenced by the past but designed in a creative way that has never been seen before. Each piece is made carefully by hand, with excellent use being made of clusters of diamonds, or coloured precious stones, in many pieces. Owning a piece says a great deal about both the giver and the recipient, and each piece becomes an instant family heirloom.
3-VICTORIO & LUCCHINO
Still in the world of fashion, we now look at an international brand that is synonymous with Andalucía: Victorio & Lucchino. They began their successful collaboration more than forty years ago in Seville, opening a shop there and presenting their first important collection in New York in 1985. Since then they have presented two prêt-á-porter collections each year. They launched their first perfume in 1992 and have recently moved into jewellery design. Among their clients was Whitney Houston, who wore a piece designed by them in the film The Bodyguard.
They designed the fifth floor of the Puerta América Hotel in Madrid in 2005, and their fame has since spread throughout Europe, the United States and Japan. They were married in Carmona, in the province of Seville, in 2007, and worked from the house that once belonged to the painter Velázquez between 1985 and 2017, losing the property to the tax authorities in that year. Nevertheless, such a financial setback has done nothing to dent their reputation as fashion designers.
4-LA PIEL DE UBRIQUE
Ubrique is a medium-sized town in a remote part of Cadiz, about 30 kilometres due west of Ronda, which could be more accurately described as a very large white village. Ask any Spaniard in our day what it is famous for, and they will probably mention the name of a bullfighter, but as far as the wider world of luxury leatherwork is concerned, this is the European capital.
The town is peppered with leather establishments, from large industrial-sized factories to small workshops to very fancy high-street shops to nooks and crannies where small-time craftspeople and traders carry out their business. More than half the workforce of this town of almost 18,000 inhabitants work in leather.
Although the tradition goes back to Roman times, the leather industry as we know it today was established about 200 years ago in Ubrique. There is no single trademark that Ubrique is especially famous for, because the business model here is the supply of high-quality goods to almost all of the most renown luxury goods firms in Europe and beyond. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermes, Chanel, Chloe, Loewe and Carolina Herrera are just some of the brands that use the artisans of Ubrique to make such items as handbags, wallets and belts.
The town was badly hit by the recent financial crisis and some of its best international clients began looking towards China as a cheaper sourcing location. That didn’t last long: the skills needed to work leather to the standards set by Ubrique are not easily or quickly acquired, and with demand increasing all the time, the town is still the European capital of luxury leatherwork.
5-UDESIGN BESPOKE FURNITURE
UDesign is an international award-winning firm of architects, interior designers, project managers and craftspeople based in Marbella, who set up their own bespoke furniture studios because they could not find exactly what they wanted elsewhere. As European leaders in the design and construction of luxury homes, their furniture reflects the core values of the company itself: creativity and innovation with just the right touch of tradition.
A typical piece of UDesign furniture does not really exist (all pieces are unique), but there is a design concept common to all their pieces: the use of high-quality natural materials in a truly innovative way. Creativity is the key word, and with a highly trained and experienced team of carpenters, upholsterers and specialist painters working closely with the company’s designers, the result, as we can see below, is an exceptional and unique product range.