Though born and raised in Madrid, Diana Saldaña is very much an international figure. As an art historian who specializes in self-portrait photography, she's worked at PHOTOEspaña Festival in Madrid, Magnum Photos in Paris and LA's Getty Museum. After traveling the world, she returned to her hometown to start a small sustainable clothing label. Its name, Royal Caballito, gestures to her multicultural background by combining the English word "royal" with the Spanish word for "little horse," evoking the aesthetic of early century carousels and their playful, dreamlike world. The label expresses the fresh sense of wonder that is often lost during the process of growing up, and it's started to garner attention.
All of the pieces are designed by Saldaña and produced by local and traditional manufacturers in Spain; each piece is made to order to reduce waste. "I have been collaborating with the same local Madrid family-run factories and workshops since I started—one for printmaking, the other for pattern-making and sewing, and the third for the knit pieces," Saldaña tells CH. "The way I understand my work is intensely connected to being able to have control over the whole process [in] the creation of my pieces. I want human interaction, I like to put faces to the people who make my clothes and create close connections in collaborating with them. I find that this is a win-win situation in terms of quality and sustainability, which are both so precious to me, as well as being able to support the local industry—which was once so important in Spain!"
It's interesting to see what kinds of designs are created by someone who is serious about art. Royal Caballito's AW 2013 collection is named "HIELO," which means "ice" in Spanish. The name is a reminder that Madrid (and the rest of Spain) doesn't experience perfect weather all year long, but Saldaña wants to drive away the winter doldrums with these versatile, exceptionally comfortable (thanks to a blend of cashmere, merino and viscose) pieces. Taking a break from the more traditional, dark winter colors, she chooses to keep things light with soft blues, pinks, white and tans. "I'm a Mediterranean girl, I love sunny and warm weather, and I get kind of moody when the days get short and cold," says Saldaña. "So I wanted to create a collection in which I could imagined myself happily surviving these months."
One print—the teapot-like figures—is particularly eye-catching. "That print was inspired by Cubism and their still-lifes, and by my collection of traditional handmade pottery (they're pots and jars, in fact) and that's why that print family is called Folk," says Saldaña. "I've always had this kind of pottery around me; first at my parents and now at home, as I collect it myself. Unfortunately, I've found that it's getting harder and harder to find—when I travel to small villages I'm always looking—as the craftsmen are either retiring or dying, and there's often no one to continue the tradition! I love traditional folk artifacts because they summon aesthetic, functionality and democratic design like no other item does."
Royal Caballito will be available in Madrid at brick-and-mortar TRÄ and IOU Story stores. For those outside of Madrid, purchases can be made at Royal Caballito's website or Etsy shop. Prices range from $96 to $288.
Images of Diana Saldaña in her studio courtesy of Laura Jiménez, lookbook photos by Jeronimo Alvarez and courtesy of Royal Caballito