tHi there, Spainlandia. It’s um, well… it’s been awhile. Life is confusing, isn’t it? Anyway, sorry about that. Analytics tells me most of you are probably hackers from Russia attempting to bring down my site anyway. The important thing is I’m back, at least for today, so let’s talk about Velvet, a series from Spain on Netflix.
Romance à la Netflix: Velvet
Velvet is a romantic drama set within a Madrid fashion house known as Galerías Velvet. The show is centered around a forbidden love between the heir to Galerías Velvet, a dashing young man named Alberto Márquez who has recently returned from England, and Ana Ribera, a beautiful working-class seamstress who is the niece of the store’s well-respected, longtime floor manager, Don Emilio.
How do Alberto and Ana’s lives ever even cross paths long enough for love to bloom, given that they come from completely different social classes? Oh yeah, an important detail and plot device: Velvet’s employees live in a dormitory in the basement of the store, and although children are forbidden there, years ago an exception was made for Ana, who as a small child moved in with her bachelor uncle, Don Emilio, after being orphaned.
So Ana grows up playing with the owner’s son, Alberto, who is about her age and also has no mother. Although Alberto will later get an evil stepmother and a spoiled half-sister, for a time Alberto and Ana pretty much have only each other, as their caretakers are busy meeting the demands of their jobs.
Velvet Has More to Explore than Gran Hotel
I just learned that in the fall of 2016 Gran Hotel disappeared from Netflix. Velvet is a superior show though, so fret not. Although Alberto and Ana’s story is central, the secondary characters also have well-developed storylines, and they all have real friendships with either Ana or Alberto, or friends of Ana and Alberto, so you get the sense you are watching more of an ensemble drama than just a “will they or won’t they?” tale about Alberto and Ana that goes on longer than it should. There’s depth in Velvet’s cast of characters.
There are sibling pairs (Alberto and Patricia Márquez, Clara and Rita Montesinos, and Cristina and Enrique Otegui) as well as close friendships (Alberto and Mateo, Ana and Rita, Doña Blanca and Don Emilio; Cristina and Bárbara) and well as various romantic coupling between staff members.
All of these different relationships are mined in detail, so this series held my attention far longer than Gran Hotel, which I quit watching somewhere near the beginning of Season Two because it just felt like too much of a rehash of what I had seen before.
However, if you quickly grow bored of power grabs, shifting alliances, and romantic entanglements, you should skip Velvet. Also say no if you can’t tolerate screwball comedy; there’s a lot here.
Ay Dios Mío, Aquí Hace Mucho Calor, ¿Sí o No?
Let’s talk about Velvet’s main male character, Alberto Márquez, brought to life by leading man Miguel Angel Silvestre.
Hmm, as much Spanish as I’ve studied over the years, I still haven’t quite come up with the perfect frase that quite encapsulates a sensitive, brooding studmuffin whose gaze sears my soul; who isn’t afraid to cry or express his feelings; who is a true blue friend; who knows the appropriate moment to throw back a stiff drink midday; and who happens to be packing an absolutely magnificent set of abs. A less misogynistic, less psychologically-disturbed Don Draper, if you will.
Silvestre has the kind of voice I’d like to listen to reading a damn phonebook. He also plays Lito Rodríguez on the Netflix series Sense8, and if you are an Almodóvar fan, you might recognize him as the hunky newlywed from Los Amantes Pasajeros (I’m So Excited!). Mmm, break me off a piece of that!
Paula Echevarría: More Popular than Pé Herself
Paula Echevarría plays Velvet’s female lead, Ana Ribera. Echevarría also starred in a series I loved called Gran Reserva about rival wineries in La Rioja (yes, really) which unfortunately is no longer available via streaming in the U.S.
Echevarría is the Spaniard with the most Instagram followers and in 2012 her name was the second most searched term in Google Spain after only the death of Whitney Houston. She also has a fashion blog for Elle Spain and is married to Spanish pop singer David Bustamante.
Season Two Brings a Familiar Face to Galerías Velvet
Fans of Gran Hotel will be happy to notice the arrival of Amaia Salamanca in the second season of Velvet playing the character of Bárbara de Senillosa, an icy and manipulative yet wholly entertaining elitist who is a far cry from the angelic protagonist Alicia Alarcón of Gran Hotel. Salamanca has great comedy chops.
Quejas, Pues, I Do Have a Few
Velvet begins in 1958, and yet the repression of the Franco era is inexplicably nearly absent from this series, as is any discussion of the politics of the era, which is very different from Amar en tiempos revueltos, whose storyline centered around the repercussions of breaking Francoist era norms, although that series took place towards the beginning of the post-civil war era, rather than 20+ years later.
Nevertheless, the late 1950s is when the ultraconservative Opus Dei sect of Catholicism begins to wield huge influence in Spanish politics. In fact, franquismo so absent from Velvet that I imagine it was a deliberate choice to not include it in the series, and yet it seems a strange whitewashing of history; the few political references that do exist are extremely vague and expressed in a rather veiled manner. There’s a very light allusion to the possible homosexuality of one character, and one mention of needing an estranged spouse to return to make a good impression on a priest, but that’s about it.
Are the Period Fashions Lost in Translation on Me?
Although the show takes place in the late 1950s, I felt really confused watching the first season because everything seems so 1940s to me, but that’s probably because I’m applying American cultural references to Spain when perhaps don’t really apply.
For example, the attire of both the working class women and the wealthy women often looks straight-up vintage 1940s to me in what is supposed to be the late ‘50s fashion.
At some point we move into the 1960s and yet the clothes and makeup look 1950s at best to me; there are no miniskirts or mod eyeliner in sight.
However, this was Franco’s Spain, so perhaps the fashion trends were a bit behind the times relatively speaking? So often it feels like I’m watching a 1950s show except for the music, which is clearly inspired by 1960s Motown.
Also, Galerías Velvet is supposed to be the most prestigious place for women in Madrid to buy their clothing, and yet the vibe is way more “upscale department store” like a Nordstrom or Bloomingdales or El Corte Inglés than what (I can only imagine) it’s like to be fitted for a custom gown at Balenciaga. Not really a complaint, but just a little confusing to me. And for that matter, did workers really live in the basement dormitories of their jobs? Was that a thing?
The Speaking Pace Will Challenge Your Spanish
I like to watch Velvet with Spanish subtitles since some of the characters speak incredibly fast. Often the subtitles are actually condensed versions of what is actually said. It blows my mind that there are actually so many words spoken, and they are so fast that the eye cannot keep up with them on the screen!
Three of Velvet’s four seasons are available streaming on Netflix. The fourth season of Velvet finished its original broadcast run on Spain’s Antena 3 channel in late December 2016. I would venture that this final season will be added to Netflix by Summer 2017 as well.
Lastly, if you dislike spoilers, stay away from the official Velvet Twitter, Facebook and website. They all contain very obvious visual information about how the series ends. Also skip poking around the stars’ Instagram accounts: there are lots of pictures from the series finale.