Okay, so maybe not EVERYONE, but a couple of good friends have posted that they’ve been LOVING The Cook of Castamar (2021) aka La cocinera de Castamar, the Spanish drama that recently premiered on Netflix. I’ve been sewing like a madwoman and so had to put off anything subtitled, but I finally managed to watch the first episode, and my reaction is ….. huh??
The Cook of Castamar is an adaptation of a novel. The story is set in 1720 Spain, and is about an agoraphobic cook who starts working in a widower duke’s home … and, of course, things get complicated. It stars Michelle Jenner, who seems to be the Spanish historical manic pixie frock flick dream girl ever since she starred in Isabel.
The series’ costumes were designed by Bubi Escobar (El ministerio del tiempo). According to a Spanish news site,
“The wardrobe manager, Bubi Escobar, and her team not only used rented suits, but have also made dresses, which in addition to being beautiful and eye-catching, are also quite uncomfortable for the actresses. Most are skintight corsets with the inevitable ribbons to achieve the narrow waist and flat chest that was in fashion. They and they have confessed it: eating or breathing is difficult after four hours of filming. But we viewers appreciate the sacrifice when we see the images” (bad Google translate of Conocé todo sobre el vestuario de “La Cocinera de Castamar”).
I‘m guessing everyone must be loving the plot, because the costumes? Ahem. First, let’s look at 1720s fashion in Spain. It’s not crazy to start with court styles, because the duke is a close intimate of King Philip V and in the first episode, throws a “gala” party that involves the king:
Here’s the future queen of Spain, then princess of Asturias (i.e., married to the heir to the throne), wearing very typical Western European-style court dress, consisting of fitted cone-shaped bodice (this one open over a stomacher) and loose, pulled-up sleeves. Her hair is short, curled, and powdered up the wazoo | Bárbara de Braganza, Princess of Asturias by Jean Franc, c. 1729, Museo del Prado
More court dress, this time with a closed-front bodice more typical of the era | Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), wife of Philippe V and Queen of Spain by Giovanni Maria delle Piane, 1700-49, Palace of Caserta
Male formal dress: breeches, long waistcoat, coat with wide cuffs and skirtings. Note the long, heavily powdered wig | Ferdinand VI as a Boy by Jean Franc, c. 1723, Museo del Prado
An older marquis with another long, powdered wig | Francisco Antonio de Salcedo y Aguirre, marqués de Vadillo by Miguel Jacinto Meléndez, c. 1728, Museo de Historia de Madrid
For something slightly less formal, we’ve got this embroidered jacket, stomacher, and petticoat | Dress, c. 1718, Catalonia, Museu del Disseny de Barcelona
Man’s coat with gold trim | Jacket, 1715 – 1720, Catalonia, Museu del Disseny de Barcelona
This family is in New Spain (i.e., Mexico) and slightly later, so the women are wearing robes à la française with cuffs, and the men full-skirted coats; both wear heavily powdered hair, close to the head | Portrait of family Fagoaga Arozqueta by an unidentified Mexican painter, c. 1734-36, via Wikimedia Commons
Again later, but here’s a good crowd scene depicting Madrid. Note ALL the men in heavily powdered wigs (these ones with “knots”), and the women all wearing mantilla veils | Procesión de la Virgen de Gracia en la Plaza de la Cebada (detail), c. 1741, Museo de Historia de Madrid
Procesión de la Virgen de Gracia en la Plaza de la Cebada (detail), c. 1741, Museo de Historia de Madrid
So what does the series give us?
Michelle Jenner as Clara, wearing a pinner apron over visible stays.
They’re obviously referencing the famous “chocolate girl” portrait, but notice this is an actual jacket, not stays | Jean-Etienne Liotard, The Chocolate Girl, around 1744 – 1745, Old Masters Picture Gallery Dresden
Clara does own an actual dress, so…
The upper-class women, like Amelia, a possible wife for the duke, are mostly in robes à la française (1730s-70s) and anglaises (1760s-80s). I’m not sure what’s up with that contrast-fabric pleated stomacher. Her hair is in a bad, aqua-netted version of a 1780s bushy “hedgehog” style.
For the fancy evening party, she wears this dress, which is actually more suitable for the era — except another character tells her she looks too demure and yoinks her gown off the shoulders, and there are random ribbon rosettes plonked on the bodice.
In future episodes, she’ll be wearing this 1780s repro print with way-too-high stomacher. It’s a literal reproduction fabric, it’s just 60 years early. Maybe she’s psychic?
She’ll also be wearing this 1980s couch fabric beauty. SHUDDER.
The duke’s mother is team française (or are these stomachered-anglaises?). Her hair isn’t bad.
All of her stomachers are too thick. Side note, note the fascinator on her head.
And her bodice necklines aren’t great.
What the HELL IS GOING ON HERE IN BACK
This noblewoman’s gowns are in some way more accurate to the period …. except I swear to god, they are basically the Pirates of the Caribbean faux-17th century “plum pirate” dress.
See what I mean?
There were several variations on this dress.
She apparently has a whole wardrobe of these.
The women’s hats are weird. This one is strange, but okay.
But many of them have no dimension in the center, which they should.
I think they might be placemats?
FLAT AS A PANCAKE in the middle!
Back to servants, I’m completely confused by the housekeeper’s poochy-bust dress.
Apparently at some point she gets to invent the 1780s-style “zone“-front. Who knew that housekeepers were such fashion innovators!
THE MEN …
ALL LOOK LIKE THEY ARE HERE TO CLEAN THE LATRINES, facial-hair wise.
I’m not saying this guy ain’t pretty. But the hair and, especially, the beards are KILLING ME.
Okay, so clearly the costumes are all rentals and their budget was limited. Am I being too mean? Is the plot so good? I’ll try to make it through a few more episodes and report back!
Have you caught The Cook of Castamar? Should we keep at it?
Oh that portrait made me writhe! There’s nothing remotely 18thc about the style it was painted in. And the first dress worn by the housekeeper? Totally late Victorian! And many of those costumes fit so poorly and are just crooked. All the stomachers are so awkward. OK I’m done.
To be fair re Clara wearing her apron just over visible stays, I can actually see that as perfectly reasonable provided she’s actually working in the kitchen at the time. (If you can’t stand the heat, take your jacket off.) The Chocolate Girl is serving the gentry above stairs, which is a very different situation – she needs to look smart and she’s not going to get sweaty or greasy.
But when Amelia’s straps got yanked down off her shoulders, alas it was revealed that she couldn’t afford a shift . . .
I’m on the fence on this one. Yucky costumes and makeup. The plot and scripts have to be top notch for me to watch. Ergo. I’ll wait for your future report.
The costumes are looking so much like cheap stuff out of the collection of a theatre or from a a poor 1950s-60s production. The beards and hairstyle of the male characters doesn’t make things better. It’s not looking promising.
Yes, definitely a lot pulled from stock, it would appear.
I remember in college costume design class, in the late 70s when the period accuracy aesthetic was strong, we discussed how the 18th century often gets lumped together as if styles didn’t change. We were comparing it to the depiction of 19th century styles which didn’t suffer from this lump it all together thing as much.
And the Iberian Peninsula never seems to be doing what the rest of Europe is doing. This would have been a fun project to get right.
Men didn’t wear beards during these times. Not the poor, not the rich. [At least not white Christian men.] Why don’t these men shave?
I think 1000% it’s about a modern aesthetic of what is attractive?
I can keep watching and just roll my eyes at the costumes, if the plot is great. I can keep watching and roll my eyes at the plot, if the costumes are great. I couldn’t make it all the way through the first episode of this, and all I wanted was something to have on in the background while I hand-sew an endless amount of antique fur…..
I’m not going to say the plot was great – every episode had at least a couple of eye-rolly situations. But for some reason, it kept me watching. If you can’t suspend disbelief, I’d say skip it.
I watched the whole thing. It was good background noise for doing my makeup in the morning.
But the plot does several things that make no damned sense and it ends very strangely and abruptly.
I am a profane (i am no costume specialist or maker) but thanks to the reading of your blog for a few years, I ruled that show out at the trailer viewing stage :)
“La mayoría son corsés ceñidísimos con las inevitables cintas para lograr la cintura estrecha y el pecho aplastado que estaba de moda.”
‘Most [have] extremely tight corsets with the inevitable lacing to achieve achieve the narrow waist and flattened chest that was in fashion [then].’ (doesn’t fully make sense in Spanish)
Thanks! For some reason I have a mental block with Spanish so I’m rubbish at translating.
The stomachers look like someone’s mom made them out of foam core, and they glued fabric to them. It all makes my teeth itch.
WHAT is the thick stomacher thing about? Is it because they don’t want to put the actress in a corset and they’re hoping the stomacher will do the work? Or maybe it’s a quick dressing thing? I don’t know, but it always annoys me because then it sticks up into space and looks all chunky. A WOMAN IS NOT AN UPHOLSTERED PIECE OF FURNITURE!!
That repro gown straight up looks like the dress my Felicity doll from childhood (aiming at 1770s and probably not super accurate, I’m guessing?) came in.
The costumes are laughable (also lotsa corsets against bare skin!), its full of ridiculous & melodramatic moments (evil kitchen maids! gratuitous soprano singing! cathartic butternut squash smashing!), but I love it!