Belleza de barrio



The leopard skin trajectory


When they got to Madrid the centre was already occupied. They started settling to the south of the city: in Parla, Fuenlabrada, Leganés or Getafe. They came from Andalusia and Extremadura. They changed the village for the neighbourhood. They came to work and they became the working class. This was nearly fifty years ago.

Today their grandchildren live in these dormitory cities in the south, where a sense of village and neighbourhood life coexist. They have inherited a number of things from the early settlers: they are still working class and still have a strong fighting spirit or pride, as this is where the village outlook meets leopard skin.

What’s the difference two generations on between the way a girl from Parla looks today and another from central Madrid? The canons of beauty in the capital are defined from the top of the media pyramid: you only have to look at advertising and fashion magazines to discover why people wear what they do each season. Neighbourhood aesthetics, in contrast, cannot be found in glossy magazines, practitioners drink at the source, drawn their inspiration from what their immediate environment. This is the essential difference: in an era of mass culture, ideals of neighbourhood beauty are still passed down from mothers to daughters. You won’t find these styles advertised, they are made up of products sold at local markets that don’t feature on the pages of fashion magazines. And, unlike the fashion industry, they do not seek to create a culture in order to sell it as they feed into a culture.

Neighbourhood aesthetics comprise memes or signs of identity that are copied automatically from generation to generation. Hence we can trace with ease the genealogy of the leopard skin look. Leopard skin is a time-honoured reference from the nobility. It probably reached these shores courtesy of the British colonists who borrowed it from the ancient African kings and as years passed it was gradually adopted as a status symbol by Andulusian housewives; wearing an ostentatious profusion of ringed bracelets, gold rings and earrings, all proof of a gypsy heritage. Or wearing the omnipresent Catholic Virgin Medal or the Caravaca cross that her great-grandmother wore during the Civil War. Or with dyed blonde hair reminiscent of Swedish tourists from the 60s, or with fabulous, heavy makeup.

Neighbourhood aesthetics are about ostentation and pride. It’s no good being shy and retiring in the neighbourhood, you have to show off what you’ve got. Girls use the same strategies their mothers did to make themselves look good and their Playboy tattoos are a reflection of the daring bust lines they were nurtured on. Attitude; neighbourhood women are forces to be reckoned with. Despite the highly coherent updating process consisting of piercings and aesthetic innovations from Japan, the look they adopt remains a respectful evolution of the culture of their forebears. So unlike a twenty-year old goth, hip-hop fan or post-punk follower, a pokera from the neighbourhood never looks out of place in the family photo and her mother is unlikely to tell her off about the way she looks. Modernity and respect Messenger, leopard skin and Camarón.


Luis López Navarro, 2008