There is no shortage of shirtmakers in Spain. This is particularly so in Madrid, where in the city’s center one can’t walk three blocks without happening upon a sign for a camiseria. Few are worthy of the title, though, and of those only one firm is esteemed locally and abroad. That firm is Burgos, the small, century-old atelier located amid the neo-classical splendor of the city’s main banks. Part of Burgos’ fame has to do with its clientele, which has included entertainers and autuers (Cary Grant and Orson Welles were customers) as well as royalty, most currently the prince of Spain. The firm is also known for its Teba jackets. What sets it apart from its competitors, however, is an intense focus on craft. No fewer than five artisans play a part in each shirt’s construction, a process that from bolt to iron takes about seven hours.
Most of those hours are devoted to the sewing, a good deal of which is done by hand in the homes of seamstresses, each of whom performs separate tasks. One seamstress stitches together the collar and cuffs. Another does the yoke, front panels, and also attaches the collar, the last by hand and reinforced by machine with 18 stitches per inch. Yet another seamstress, the finisher, sews the plackets, buttonholes, hem, and gussets. She also attaches the cuffs to the sleeves and the sleeves to the armholes. All but the plackets are stitched by hand, and each is done painstakingly and beautifully, the evidence of which lie in the subtle rolling of the hem, and the clean, taut stitching of the buttonholes, themselves oblong and possessing that particular plump liveliness of a thing shaped by a human hand.
Of course, there is no distinct qualitative difference between machine-stitched and hand-stitched shirts, so long as both are well-made, but for Burgos the choice to stitch largely by hand is an aesthetic one. That is to say, the artisans at Burgos consider hand-stitches more refined than those made by machine. This is because they require a great delicate finesse to do and an even greater restraint to do well. Indeed, it can be difficult to refrain from placing such work where it will garner the most attention, and some firms don’t seem to try. But with a Burgos shirt, the only hand-work visible on the outside are a few pick stitches by the shoulder seam, a detail that is usually known only to the wearer. Now, a lot gets made of such details, these things hidden from view, but Burgos isn’t out to sell a sartorial ethos either, discreet decoration is just what they’ve always done and what they find pleases the eye most. For them, the hidden details are for pleasure and admiration, and, like any object of beauty, to help buoy the spirit.
There is much else to like about Burgos (their willingness to work on client requests, the lack of pretension inside the shop or coming from any of its staff), but it seems a special accomplishment that despite the hours of attention each shirt receives, most of the shirtings they show (sturdy 2x2’s from the Spanish mill Textivea, voile from Simmonot-Godard, and poplins from Alumo, among others) are priced around 200€ ($250) in Madrid. Even with an unfavorable exchange rate, those prices rival the more competent MTM firms.
Mrs. Carmen Olave, the third generation proprietor, visits New York a couple of times each year. Men looking to inquire about an appointment there or in Madrid should contact her at email@example.com.
-Text and photos by Anthony Eleftherion