A new tome celebrates the resplendent life of one of the world’s most enigmatic women, Spanish muse Naty Abascal.
Dress, Giambattista Valli Haute Couture; earrings, ring, Bulgari. Photographed by Félix Valiente for Vogue Arabia
Born Natividad Abascaly Romero-Toro, in Seville, Spain, in 1943, the young “Naty,” as she came to be called, would grow into one of the most striking women in the world. With large almond-shaped eyes and aquiline nose, she would become a muse to Valentino Garavani and Oscar de la Renta.
She married into royalty, becoming la duchessa upon her union with the Duke of Feria and Marquis of Villalba. Perhaps it is Abascal’s infectious curiosity and optimism that have paved the way for a life that is as colorful and vibrant as her hometown. “The smell of the orange trees, its streets, churches, and palaces… Sevilla gives me strength and focus,” she waxes poetic. From the Andalusian city, Abascal ventured out into the world, leaving her indelible mark on fashion’s most revered. Now, a new book from Rizzoli, Naty Abascal: The Eternal Muse Inspiring Fashion Designers, highlights an exhibition organized by Museo Jumex in Mexico City called Naty Abascal and Fashion!, featuring her treasure trove of garments and memories with contributions by Valentino Garavani, Christian Lacroix, and Suzy Menkes, and photographs by Lord Snowdon, Richard Avedon, Peter Beard, and Norman Parkinson, and more. Garavani wrote to editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut ahead of this shoot, photographed in Madrid, “Naty is an incredibly joyful person. Always ready to smile and have a good time. She brings this same joie de vivre to the way she wears a dress; she wants to enjoy her clothes, not be a victim of them. This is something every woman should know in her choices and not be wearing clothes they don’t enjoy.”
Dress, Schiaparelli Haute Couture; shoes, Roger Vivier; necklace, rings, earrings, bracelets, Chaumet. Photographed by Félix Valiente for Vogue Arabia
Fashion for Abascal has seemingly been one magnificent revelation to another, stemming from key encounters. Having met almost 10 years ago at Milan’s Palazzo Morando, Edgardo Osorio and Abascal had, as she recalls, “an immediate connection.” She adds, “We were talking non-stop and sharing things and ideas as if we had been friends for a lifetime. It was really love at first sight.” In 2016, the two paired up to offer a six-piece capsule shoe and boot collection with a gypsy aesthetic. Now, the luxury footwear designer behind Aquazzura delves further into Abascal’s extraordinary life.
Naty Abascal in New York, 1966. Photo: Naty Absacal Archive. Courtesy of Alexius Ruspoli, Mario Sierra
Edgardo Osorio: Describe how you were as a child.Naty Abascal: A very happy one! Eleven brothers and sisters, can you imagine? Our home was a non-stop holiday. A happy family, all united and supportive.
You were discovered in New York with your twin sister, and then Richard Avedon photographed you in Ibiza. What moment do you regard as career defining?Most probably, it was the time I lived in New York. We were invited by the Spanish designer Elio Berhanyer to show his collection during the 1964 New York’s World Fair. The New York Times mentioned in a chronicle that a model from Spain was the fastest model in the world. They were wondering how I could manage to change clothes so fast… because I was on the runway virtually all the time. What they didn’t know was that there were two of us – my twin sister and I. That’s why we were always walking the runway! Avedon felt curious, he wanted to meet and decided to photograph the two of us for a fashion spread that Elizabeth Taylor and Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya were also a part of. That shoot sealed my fate with the fashion world forever.
Dress, vintage earrings, Valentino. Photographed by Félix Valiente for Vogue Arabia
One of the strongest images I have of you is of your arrival at my 30th birthday in Florence. You were so incredible! What are some of your favorite memories of our friendship?Everything. We have so many things in common. We love life, we are passionate, curious, and interested about so many things. But let’s go back to your fabulous two-night-long Bal Masqué. I think those evenings will go down in history because they were so unique, so splendid. It seemed as if we were at the Palazzo Labia in Venice, when Charlie de Beistegui gave what has been called “the ball of the century” back in 1951. The first night the theme you chose was “wild” and wild we were! All covered in the most exotic animal prints (fake of course!) and the most incredibly extravagant hats and dresses. It was a night to remember. But, the second night – oh my! The theme was “surrealism” and surreal was everything that evening, including me. I was wearing an out-of-this-world Giambattista Valli haute couture dress, so immense that I had to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage. My head was covered with hundreds of eyes, floating in a sea of fringes, all in white. A dream come true.
Dress Zuhair Murad Haute Couture; shoes, Aquazzura; vintage earrings, ring, Naty Abascal’s own. Photographed by Félix Valiente for Vogue Arabia
You’ve been in the limelight for decades. What has been your biggest challenge?To understand how to keep my own values in an ever-changing world. Fashion is a tough industry that never forgives and forgets very quickly. It is important to know when it is time to move onto the next chapter.
You returned to the runway in the 1980s; had you missed it? Or do you prefer being a stylist and muse?Once you have tried it, the runway is something that never abandons. Obviously, when I returned, it was for a special occasion – the first show of Carolina Herrera. Now, we are living in an interesting moment, because designers have understood that not only teenagers or anonymous models in their early twenties can represent the variety of women in the world. More and more often, they are using people of different ages to show their creations. One example is this shoot for Vogue Arabia, to celebrate the launch of my book.
Naty Abascal with Oscar De La Renta, Photographed by Alexius Ruspoli- Rodriguez, New York, 1968. Photo: Naty Absacal Archive. Courtesy of Alexius Ruspoli, Mario Sierra
On the topic of your book, which are your favorite pieces in the exhibit?First of all, this exhibit has been the most generous gift of my friend Eugenio López, founder of the Museo Jumex de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. The whole process has been very personal. I would dare to say… intimate. Introspective. In some cases, these pieces have been with me for decades. It is difficult to choose, but I would say that there is a simple, short shirt- dress in yellow silk, with embroideries at the hem, that I am very fond of. It is from Oscar de la Renta. We used to go dancing most nights during the week. That dress has danced more than many other people in their lifetime. There is also an evening dress from Valentino. Black. Pure. What makes that outfit so special is the embroidered jacket that completes the look. It is entirely embroidered to recreate a Basquiat painting. But really, I do love all of them.
Valentino Garavani, Abascal, and Giancarlo Giammetti in Italy. Photo: Naty Absacal Archive. Courtesy of Alexius Ruspoli, Mario Sierra
As Christian Lacroix mentions about you in your book, along with the term “style,” the most important word in reference to you is “passion!” What are you passionate about nowadays?The same things as when I was younger: life. I am passionate about life. I am curious like a child, and everything interests me. This pandemic, though, has made me think once again about how important our homes are. How fundamental it is to feel at home, surrounded by harmonious things that make our lives more pleasant and beautiful.
What – in your life and career – are you proudest of?Everything. All that I have done is part of my learning curve in life. And let’s not forget the mistakes because they are part of life’s lessons. I don’t renounce or complain about anything. My sons, though, are who I do feel particularly proud of. They had challenging lives when they were younger but have navigated through difficult times with intelligence, resilience, discretion, and good manners. I am very proud of them.
Abascal with Edgardo Osorio. Photo: Naty Absacal Archive. Courtesy of Alexius Ruspoli, Mario Sierra
What do you compulsively hold onto?Beautiful things. I cannot resist the temptation of buying unique, rare objects, clothes, accessories, pieces for my homes… Whether they are unique or just simple and humble ones found in a flea market. What is important is that they excite me and stimulate my curiosity.
What do you think about in the moments before you fall asleep?How happy and blessed I am for having a life full of health, friends, work, and a beautiful family. Life is a miracle; something we cannot take for granted. Something we have to be grateful for, every minute of our lives.
What is good taste, to you? The opposite to obvious in-your-face pretentiousness. But good taste is something that cannot be defined so easily. What is good taste for me is bad for others. What is important in life is that what we do is coherent with our lifestyle and our personality. One cannot be wrong when following one’s own instinct.
Dress, Giambattista Valli Haute Couture; earrings, rings, Bulgari. Photographed by Félix Valiente for Vogue Arabia
When you walk into your wardrobe in the morning, do you ever feel uninspired? How do you decide on a look? The truth? I don’t think twice. I rarely have doubts, and not because I have given serious thought about what to wear. It is something that happens in a spontaneous way. Color is important for me. Maybe one morning I am obsessed with a color – red, for instance. I choose an impactful accessory, maybe a scarf, or printed pants… and then I start adding things. That way, I can change for a lunch, a day in the studio working, or a dinner party in the evening. The key is layers. One never knows what is going to happen, so it is important to be ready for any last-minute surprise.
What is it about an item of clothing that draws you to it? What catches your eye and makes you want to wear something? Well, you know me very well and you also know how eclectic I am with my taste regarding everything in life. From fashion to history or architecture, all interests me. But if we talk about fashion, a perfect white shirt is a staple in my wardrobe, and I am most confident wearing one of those, from morning to evening.
Jacket, dress, Zuhair Murad Haute Couture; hat, Mariana Barturen; vintage earrings, ring, Naty Abascal’s own. Photographed by Félix Valiente for Vogue Arabia
Throughout your life and career, you were friend and muse to many designers. What did you enjoy most about working with so many incredible designers? Some of them were not only friends but also mentors and teachers. I have learned many things from people like Oscar de la Renta, Valentino Garavani, Veronica Etro, and many others that I can consider, above all, my friends. Working with such talented people is a rare privilege. Everything they touch becomes special, it is their vision. Working so closely with them gives you a privileged access to what is in their minds, and how they translate an idea into something wearable. That is fascinating.
What is something about style that no one ever asks you but you would love to talk about? Manners. People talk about other people, about trends, fashion, events… but it seems that manners are taboo today. Manners, as well as personal style, are probably the most effective test to know somebody.
You’ve worked with great designers, photographers, artists… What do the world’s most creative people have in common? Fantasy. No restrictions. Freedom. Culture. Exquisite manners and curiosity.Read Next: Designers of Three Arab Brands and Their Artistic Muses on Inspiring Each Other’s Creativity
Originally published in the May 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia