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Made in Madrid: The Spanish tailors outfitting world cinema

With a vast wardrobe catering to everything from “House of the Dragon” to “The Crown”, Spain’s Peris Costumes has carved out a well-tailored niche for itself, renting costumes to producers across the globe.

“Here, you can find everything,” says CEO Javier Toledo showing off a vast array of costumes and accessories — from suits of armour to frock coats, sailor suits and monastic robes.

All around him mannequins dressed in 18th-century gowns stand next to posters of the many films his company has worked on in recent years.

“There are starting to be rather a lot,” admits the 63-year-old entrepreneur with white hair and a neatly trimmed goatee whose business is based in Algete, a small town just outside Madrid.

Since Toledo took over 10 years ago, the business has been transformed.

What began as a small family firm set up by tailors specialising in theatre costumes in the eastern coastal city of Valencia in 1856 has become a world leader in costume hire for the film industry.

And it’s a success story closely linked to the rise of on-demand streaming giants such as Netflix, Disney+ and HBO.

“We have responded to the changes that have taken place in the market,” he told AFP, pointing notably to the explosion in popularity “of the series”.

When he bought the company, Peris Costumes only had a dozen staff, all based in Madrid.

Today, the group employs 250 people and has offices or workshops in 15 capital cities, including Budapest, Berlin, Paris and Mexico City.

“During the first half of the year, we were involved in almost 600 productions. And by the end of the year we’re hoping that will be more than 1,000,” says marketing director Myriam Wais.

– Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra’ jewellery –

Among the films and series that have chosen the company are numerous super-productions which are very demanding in terms of period or fantasy costumes.

Whether it’s “The Rings of Power”, “Mulan” or “Marco Polo”, many productions prefer to rent costumes rather than invest in making their own.

“Trying to make (the costumes) from scratch is practically impossible because of the time and costs involved,” says Toledo.

And producers appreciate “having costumes that have been worn in and aged with time”, he explains.

To expand its catalogue, Peris Costumes has in recent years has bought up millions of gowns, hats, pairs of shoes and uniforms from studio giants like Warner Bros.

And all these complement its own in-house collections put together in the workshops of its costume designers.

“In total, we have more than 10 million articles” of clothing and accessories, says Wais, reeling off a list of the most popular styles and eras.

It is, she says, “the biggest wardrobe in the world”.

In a nearby room, four garment makers are working with pieces of leather, with a hammer-like maul and pliers on hand.

“Right now, we’re working on our inventory but there are also orders,” she says.

In another room is the jewellery workshop, where close to 20,000 pieces are stored, including the jewels worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 epic “Cleopatra” and the papal cross worn by Jude Law in the 2016 series “The Young Pope”.

– Damaged but never discarded –

At Peris Costumes, the rule is to never throw anything away, not even if it is damaged during filming.

“We have an area called ‘The Walking Dead’ in which we put everything that is broken or damaged but that could be reused,” Wais says, the term referencing a TV series about zombie apocalypse survivors.

With demand showing little sign of ebbing, this Spanish outfitter has recently started digitising some of its catalogue with the help of a studio equipped with 144 high-resolution cameras.

Dubbed Peris Digital, this service lets production companies “create 3D images” of costumes which can be used “during post-production”, Wais says.

And this “virtual wardrobe” has also proved popular with the makers of video games, the company says.