Face to Face with David Sáenz of La Melguiza Saffron

February 17th, 2023 by

From the bouillabaisse fish soup of Southern France to the biryani rice dishes of South Asia there is a common thread (literally); the dried stigma threads from the crocus flower known as saffron. Here in Spain, no self-respecting quality paella would be complete without the reddish hues and earthy flavour of Spanish saffron.

Following our introductory monthly INC meeting last year, Susannah meets up with David Sáenz at his shop, La Melguiza to find out about the heritage of this fascinating spice.  

With a background in consultancy and delicatessens, Sáenz noticed a burgeoning interest in Spanish saffron and now sells it in all its guises; from saffron-infused shampoo to body lotion and even honey saffron sweets.

Rich pickings

What is saffron and where is it grown?

Saffron comes from the dried stigma and styles (threads) of the crocus flower and is cultivated in an arid, windswept belt from Central Spain in the West to Kashmir in the East. Whilst La Mancha with its protected appellation known as the Denominación de Origen Protegida is responsible for over 90% of Spain´s production there is also a small amount cultivated in Teruel.

What´s the difference between Spanish saffron and the Iranian variety?

Three precious threads

The main differences can be seen in the quality. As in all natural produce, time and consistency contribute to the overall quality of the end product. You always need to shorten the time between extracting the product from the land to processing it to ensure it doesn´t spoil.  In Iran the process of extracting the threads from the flower to drying them takes longer as they have vast areas to harvest and a poorer transport system. The saffron threads are then dried out in the sun which means there is less control over how much toasting they receive. Whereas in Spain the threads are dried in huge drums over a fire by eagle-eyed experienced abuelas who ensure the toasting is even.  

La Melguiza´s iconic shop near the Calle Mayor

Has saffron always been popular in Spain?

Yes, about a 100 years ago more than 50% of Spanish cuisine used saffron. For example, it was used in all dishes containing pulses as in callos y garbanzos (tripe and chickpeas), pollo a la pepitoria (chicken with almond and saffron sauce); patatas a la importancia (potatoes with saffron, garlic and white wine); seafood dishes – particularly clams and also puddings. The grassy flavours of Saffron have also traditionally been used in desserts such as flan, ice creams, sponge cakes.

Honey and saffron sweets

Why is there an upsurge in demand now?

People are more interested in provenance, in the origins of good quality ingredients. Up until 6 or 7 years ago Spanish saffron wasn´t selling much but now I have Spanish and a lot of overseas clients. Editor´s Note: I witness some loyal Middle Eastern Embassy customers eagerly stack up a large number of saffron boxes on the counter as we speak.

Isn´t saffron extremely expensive?

Actually the lesser quality saffron is expensive for what it is. Whereas, the top quality version imparts a lot of flavour and colour with just a few threads so it can be used sparingly.

David shows me round his saffron emporium

How should one use it?

I recommend soaking the threads in warm water and adding it all to savoury dishes. You can also steep saffron in milk for desserts.

What´s next for La Melguiza?

In addition to our line of saffron-imbued cosmetics, lotions, candles and craft beer I am about to launch some organic saffron-flavoured pistachos from La Mancha. I have a feeling they will be as successful as our unpasteurized orange blossom saffron honey. Editor´s Note: Beware – these yellow crunchy numbers are very moreish indeed.

La Melguiza shop/showroom – Calle Santiago, 12. Metro Opera. Online orders

Face to Face with Valérie Aucouturier of The Little Green Bottle essential oils

January 19th, 2023 by

“I am what I breathe”

Last year INC enjoyed an enlightening interactive workshop at Sentidea where we had fun making up our own “winter potion” to ward off winter colds.

This week Susannah returns face to face with CEO, Valérie Aucouturier of Sentidea and The Little Green Bottle Essential Oils to find out exactly how just a tiny drop of these botanical beauties can boost our mind, body and soul.

A real gung ho approach. After 15 years’ marketing experience in the luxury perfume sector for the likes of Clarins, Thierry Mugler, Swarovski and Emanuel Ungaro I felt ready to explore my own entrepreneurial spirit so I took the bull by the horns.

What inspired you to set up your own business?

I´ve always been greatly inspired by famous perfumers such as Jean-Claude Ellena and historians such as Elizabeth de Feydeau to seek out beautiful raw materials and reinvent rituals. So I knew I wanted to harness these values and thus Sentidea, a consultancy in olfactive marketing, was born.

How you can tell the difference between a quality essential oil and a lesser one?

It´s a bit of a minefield as there are lots of varying quality products out there. So always check on the label that it is organic and therefore pesticide-free; 100% pure so that the plant extract is the primary ingredient and not diluted and 100% natural so the plant should appear with its full botanical Latin name as opposed to a perfume made from it which has no beneficial molecules.

How do essential oils actually work?

An essential oil is a plant concentrate, obtained by steaming or pressing various parts of the plant including leaves, flowers, barks, roots and peel. By extracting the plants’ own properties we are effectively transferring the plant´s natural ability to ward off disease into an essential oil for our own health and wellbeing through aromatherapy.

What´s the best way of applying essential oils?

Our sense of smell provides the fastest way of absorbing the benefits from their properties as it is received by the nervous receptors in our nose which sends out a stimulating or relaxing message to our whole body.

As essential oils are rapidly absorbed into the skin so they can act locally with great speed. Try rubbing on eucalyptus oil on the soles of your feet to alleviate respiratory problems.

What about aromatherapy at home?

Essential oils make really handy home remedies, such as Tree Tea oil to treat minor burns, small cuts; Helichrysum which is more effective than Arnica for bruises and bumps; radiata eucalyptus for colds and lemon eucalyptus for mosquito bites. I am also a great fan of grapefruit to combat unwanted odours in my teens’ trainers!

What is the best way to enjoy essential oils?

I recommend using a nebulizer as it transforms the oil into microscopic drops that are so light enough to float in the air so they can be inhaled. Or in the case of Madrid which has such a dry climate you can diffuse them in a humidifier with fresh water that helps to keep your nose and throat lubricated, which in turn, eliminates germs. Please avoid burners!

What cultural differences do you see in the demand for essential oils around the world?

Like wine, demand is usually greater for whatever plants grow locally so in Spain this means the whole citrus family; lemon, orange, tangerine. In France, we are big on lavender, whereas In Asia, they favour sandalwood. I really encourage our customers to choose our Mediterranean Laurel which is as antiseptic as the Australian Tea tree but far more eco-friendly in terms of carbon print and transportation.

Did you have a game-changing moment whereby you realised your professional life started to fulfil you on all levels?

Yes, I felt a real change when I adapted my business model to align with my emotional needs. So my company has two different arms now: Sentidea is the commercial branch and we supply pharmacies, beauty salons and spas with pure essential oil brands that we trust. We also run interactive workshops for professionals and members of the public alike. This has proved very successful and so in 2020 I was able to launch my very own essential oils brand: The Little Green Bottle. It´s very gratifying when I see a sea of smiles in a yoga class perfumed with one of our top-selling products, the Ibiza Vibe blend.

What´s the rationale behind The Little Green Bottle?

We created The Little Green Bottle to offer a collection of our own organic, minimalist and refillable blends of essential oils that help you to own your mood.

We pride ourselves on the fact that the combination of oils with circular economy-based accessories makes The Little Green Bottle a versatile gift for your personal wellbeing as well as a sustainable one.

In these uncertain times, what oils do you recommend to give us a lift?

Our roll-on Insta Confidence from The Little Green Bottle is a nifty blend of 10 essential oils that can calm, relax as well boost and recalibrate you to give you that lift you need.

What´s next for Valérie Aucouturier?

My next dream is to plant helichrysum, the “golden sun” of the Mediterranean, somewhere near my happy place in Deia, Mallorca. I would also like to develop recipes with a chef or write a book about cooking with essential oils for all the family!


  • Calle José Abascal 42 – 2º -Dcha.
  • 28003 Madrid
  • Tel: +34 917 810 516
  • WhatsApp: +34 635 899 886
  • Horario de atención:
  • L-V: 10:00h a 18:00h For fun workshops in Calle Abascal for online shop

Face to Face with Edith Chan

September 22nd, 2022 by

In May we enjoyed a fascinating peak into the world of fashion and how to maximise our appearance with what suits us and how to maximise our look with Edith Chan, Image Consultant, Personal Stylist, Mindset Coach and Personal Brand Queen.

Later Susannah Grant caught up with entrepreneurial Chan to discuss her double-decade career that has led her to style models in Fashion Week, for magazines, as well as film stars such as Leonardo di Caprio in Hong Kong, New York, London and now in Madrid where she has also just styled German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the CBS Chief Correspondent Margaret Brennan.

Lights, camera, Edith in action

How did your career evolve from bustling Hong Kong to the bright lights of fashion runways round the world?

In Hong Kong Chinese culture appearance is key and from a very young age I was inspired by clothes from reading many fashion magazines and observing the customers in my parents’ restaurant on the island. As a girl I was forever experimenting with hairstyles, make-up and different outfits. I then kicked off my career in the hair and make-up industry and soon became Art Director for various hair styling brands and I also made a name for myself styling models for magazines and actors in the film industry. By the age of 27 I was teaching other professionals before moving on to do head-to-toe transformations in London and in New York before transferring to Madrid in 2016.

Working her magic

What differences have you seen in the Madrid Fashion Scene vs London and vs New York?

In my opinion New York fashion tends to be more modern, contemporary and commercial whereas the style in London tends to be more creative, experimental and heritage-inspired. Madrid is an interesting mix: more classic, life-style and arty.

Leonardo is spruced up by Edith

You have styled well-known celebrities such as Leonardo di Caprio, what´s it like working with people in those spheres?

In my experience celebrities prefer to be treated as normally as possible. This attitude of measured deference has the added advantage in that it makes you “shrink” less so that you are taken more seriously while retaining some power and respect which ultimately allows you to shine at your job and help them shine at theirs.

Edith takes the stage

Apart from working with celebrities and models what sort of “ordinary” people come to you?

All sorts. Some are women looking to enhance their professional image for their career-related social media online presence, others are stuck in a rut and feel uncomfortable with experimenting with new styles. Once their appearance is enhanced, they feel quite differently about themselves internally. That´s the area I´m currently training in so as to offer 360-degree transformations. I have a broad clientele and am able to work my magic online as well as in person.

INC “models” hit the catwalk

What differences have you noticed about women in different age brackets?

Women in their 20´s tend to follow fashion blindly or they want to stand out but in both cases there is less regard for what actually suits them. Those in their 30´s start to consolidate their identity and want to accelerate their career with the “right” image. They know what they want but they don´t know how to create it. Women in their 40-50’s assume they know more than they actually do (sound familiar?) and their previously rigid colour range opens up as they venture beyond their husband´s diehard preferences. They tend to shy away from showing any incipient signs of ageing. By the time women hit their 60’s and over they´re emancipated again and more accepting of their life stage.

In your consultations with clients, what differences or repeated preferences or characteristics have you seen in Spanish or expat clients here compared with those in the UK?

The expat clients in Madrid like to blend in with the lifestyle and culture in Madrid which means they want to be more casual, playful with less of a corporate formal feel. Interestingly, I´ve seen that people´s characters are influenced by the sunny climate and easy-going atmosphere in the capital so they became more relaxed and sociable.

We each have our enhancing colour palette

You´re also a Colour Me Beautiful Consultant – what does that entail?

I develop a personal colour palette that reflects a woman´s lifestyle and unique colouring plus  make-up to give her the wow factor. We also discuss how colour influences how we feel and look.

Why do you have to have a bare (make-up free) face for the consultation?

In order to match up the colours that best suit you it´s important to know the “bare” truth as once you have a clear idea of the original base-line you can then play and mix it up more successfully.

Choosing our own rainbow to bring out the best in us

What other services do you provide?

I also do personal styling, wardrobe management and personal shopping whereby we analyse a woman´s current clothes to ensure the outfits reflect the best version of herself as she is now and we make amendments accordingly. This usually means you have fewer items that are more flattering, versatile and meaningful as opposed to 100´s of garments gathering dust. It´s a lot of fun!

Small tweaks – big statement

What would you say to a midlife woman who is convinced that she doesn´t need fashion and beauty advice from an expert or perhaps is not looking to make a statement about her appearance?

I have always believed that it´s crucial to remain on a continual learning curve, irrespective of your life-stage. Our clothes and general appearance send a lot of non-verbal cues about who we are, where we´re from and how we feel about ourself as well as others.  So, coaching mid-life women to build their confidence, self-esteem and self-image is a big part of my job. I like to discover their true essence and inner-power in order to enable them to show their best self and authenticity. I am passionate about helping women to accept the ageing process and break through their limiting beliefs about their overall appearance.

In my opinion, fashion and beauty don’t just impact other people’s impressions of us. They also affect how we think and feel about ourselves.

Styling Thomas Lemar from Atlético Madrid

What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs who are also looking to expand their professional repertoire?

Look at your skillset, drill down deep into what sparks joy in your life and this will inevitably lead you to explore other areas where you can add value and feel fulfilled. My job is all about listening to my clients and visualising how best to enhance them. My creative skills remain at the core of everything I do.

What´s next for Edith Chan?

I will be soon qualified as a Rapid Transformational Therapist (RTT) and mindset coach. In my job interpersonal skills are key as I have to suss out my clients very quickly and accurately as possible.  I realised that so many people are held back by hidden beliefs of what they could or should look like. So, I have put my attuned people skills to good use by transforming clients on the inside as well as the outside. I love to delve into their areas of self-doubt and give their self-confidence a creative Chan-induced boost.

What face shape are you?

Edith Chan – contact details:

Email: / WhatsApp +34 654 189 358

IG –

Face to face with Begoña Slocker, graphologist

May 4th, 2022 by

This month we delve into the fascinating world of graphology as accomplished graphologist, Begoña Slocker talks to us about the traits our handwriting can reveal and how to best apply this science in both professional and personal spheres.  

What prompted you to embark on a career as a graphologist?

Graphology has always been part of my life since I was born in 1954 as my father was a member of the Societé de Graphologie in Paris. When my own children grew older I started studying it as a hobby really, never to imagine that I´d actually make a living from it as I do today.

What is it about writing that determines someone´s character?

Handwriting, at the end of the day, is very much an expression of our feelings, just as when we´re happy we walk with our head up and back straight. Our writing is the same, it goes up or down according to our mood. There are hundreds of features that you can analyse once you´ve mastered the science of graphology over a long period of time.

How do companies use a graphologist in their recruitment process?

A graphological analysis looks at personality traits in three sections:

Intellectual qualities, willingness and behaviour.

The candidate writes 15 lines only and his or her signature from which a report is written. There are many detectable characteristics such as their professional competency in terms of quality and quantity of their output, as well as their capacity to adapt, honesty, if they lie or steal, if they´re well-balanced individuals or have conflictive personalities amongst many other features.

The graphologist also helps to determine the suitability of a particular role for each candidate based on their respective personality. Graphology is a very useful asset that can be put to good use in tandem with the Human Resources department.

The team at work at Centro Slocker

What does a graphologist contribute to the police force?

Well, on the surface not much but I have just had a case of a man who tragically fell from a bridge whilst on a trip. The insurance Company claimed that he must have committed suicide, contrary to what the deceased’s family stated. I carried out a study of his handwriting taken from the day before the accident and I was able to demonstrate that there was no evidence of depression, instability or sadness which, if present, would all have been very easy to spot. This was a person full of zest for life so it would have been impossible for him to have purposefully harmed himself.

However, aside from that exception, graphology is not admitted in court cases. This is Handwriting Expertise which studies the authenticity of writing, signatures and falsified documents. I do get involved quite frequently in this sphere as unfortunately there are so many scams and the victims need professionals to defend them.

Slocker is at one of her many speaking engagements

Can someone hide their true self by changing their handwriting?

During the first few lines it´s possible to try to falsify one´s handwriting but this is very difficult to keep up as the brain is very swift to forget a newly-acquired writing feature or style.

When we write text, at the beginning we strive to preserve neat handwriting but from the fourth line onwards we are less concerned with neatness and our own individual features come to the fore.

Where it is most difficult to copy is the signature, the most important part of any text. One´s signature is where our real SELF comes out and it belies our true personality. I never analyse a text without a signature.

The truth will out

What skills do you think you need in order to be a graphologist?

The first one is preparation, in order to be a really good graphologist you really have to study very hard, practise your skills and be very honest by really only stating what you actually see in the handwriting features themselves as opposed to embellishing the evidence with supposition in an effort to provide more information than there actually is.

A good graphologist should not have any prior information on the person they are analysing until afterwards.

It´s also key to use the skill in a positive way by highlighting a person´s attributes as opposed to using it as a weapon against them.

Tell us how you used the science of graphology to branch out into other areas.

I have been collaborating on one day Women and Leadership courses whereby they learn to get to know themselves better. I have found this work very enriching.

Slocker´s skills are snapped up by international brands

Tell us about the work you do for Montblanc pens

I work in events whereby I undertake graphological analysis on site for customers and I am also offering that service in Las Rozas Village which is a very rewarding new string to my bow.

Slocker and daughter with Orn at a recent INC event

What interesting anecdotes can you tell us relating to your work?

A customer sent me a letter from his girlfriend in order for me to gauge their compatibility as they were a week away from their wedding and I told him that up until the last minute he could say no.

Understandably he refused to have any further contact with me. Eight months later they got divorced and he wrote to say that I´d been right all along and that “you are an excellent graphologist so I´m going to continue to hire your services”.

On a separate occasion, I warned a company that a particular candidate was someone who wanted to get ahead by dubious means, they hired them anyway and two years later the candidate switched over to a competitor as a director taking all the information they had acquired. 

Slocker with well-known writer, Antonio Gala

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?

That people are neither good nor bad; we all have a palette of shades in which we can find the best version of each and every one of us.

Always at the helm

What hobbies/interests do you have aside from work?

I love photography, sailing and reading.

Begoña Slocker – CEO

Centro Slocker

Calle Gaudí 10

Boadilla del Monte, Madrid 28660

Tel 673 930 675

Face to Face with Cristiane Azem

April 30th, 2021 by

Susannah Grant comes Face to Face with Cristiane Azem, acclaimed Director, Dancer and Artistic Producer. Originally from Sao Paulo, Cristiane weaves her oriental heritage into her love of belly dancing and explores movement from a fascinating anthropological standpoint.

How old were you when you first started dancing?

I started out with modern ballet and contemporary dance aged 10. Later, aged 15, I was introduced to Flamenco and Spanish folkloric dance for the first time and I instantly fell in love with it. My love of Oriental dance came to me through my family as my father was Lebanese.

You have three strands to your business. Tell us more

Yes, I do. I have had a Dance School in the centre of Madrid for 15 years, where I teach and direct various artistic training projects for professional and amateur students and we put on several artistic productions every year.

In addition, I am a stage director of projects of other professional artists such as the great Flamenco dancer Manuel Reyes or the creator Lenna Beauty from Brazil, as well as international artistic events, mainly in Turkey.

Finally, the third strand of my work is focused on me as a dancer in my own shows, and also as a guest dancer for musicians such as Eduardo Paniagua, Emilio Sanz, Efren Lopez and Misirli Ahmed among others.

What is it that makes your dance school different from others?

Before opening my own school, I taught for 10 years, focussing not only on the dance technique itself but also on the importance of the anthropological and historical features of Eastern culture.

When I opened my own school, I pioneered a method that I call TRANSVERSAL DANCE whereupon I incorporate the experience of literature, the arts, philosophy, anthropology and history into the very heart of teaching of dance. In this way I don’t categorise the students by their level, we practise more of ” a vertical-style learning”, just like it is done in the Eastern way.

Is there a huge difference between the different countries well-known for belly dancing such as Turkey and Middle Eastern nations?

Whilst there is a great variety of styles, there isn´t a huge difference because the steps and movements are similar. However, the way of performing them is the differentiating factor and it is very enriching to study the Oriental dance of each particular region, as well as the different periods and the personal style of the great dancers of the past.

Some of the 25 dancers at the show, NIGHT, in the Teatro Galileo, Madrid

What is the history of belly dancing?

The history of Belly Dancing goes back to the history of human mankind. Starting with the first sacred dances to goddesses and gods and then social dances as a means of communal identification which later became engrained in folklore.

And then came the artistic phase that we know more superficially as “Belly Dance” which was popularised at the beginning of the 20th century by Egyptian cinema. Today belly dancing continues to evolve, often far beyond its origins or its artistic purity.

What is the knack for mastering those tiny, impressive shakes of one´s stomach area?

The first thing is to recognise your own body as having different parts, yet one energy flowing through it.  Then you start to investigate the specific movements of each zone in order to isolate them. This way the “shakes”, “shimmies”, “snakes” and “ondulating movements” gradually appear as something powerful, pleasurable and sensual.

Billowing silk at Cristiane´s dance school

What do Flamenco and Belly Dancing have in common?

Both Flamenco and Belly Dancing have long historical roots that stem from our need to connect with the forces of nature and pass down a cultural legacy to generations to come. Flamenco has a particular musical rhythm that the dancer has to master in order to dance it well. Whereas belly dancing, at first sight appears more subtly sensual and graceful. Both invigorate both body and soul and are very restorative!

What advice would you give to anyone who thinks they have 2 left feet?

Everybody in the world is able to dance. Dance is a gift we all have and if you are shown the doors, you can walk through them without fear and feel all its magic.

Night – a show encompassing both dance and literature at the Teatro Galileo

What is your secret Madrid?

My “secret Madrid” are the windows of my School which are very close to the sky of the Plaza de Tirso de Molina, in the city centre. There I can see wonderful sunsets and the moon… and the trees changing according to the season, I love that.

Ziryab show in the Teatro Compac in Gran Vía

What´s next for Cristiane Azem?

I have three new dance plays about to be released in theatres:

JAMSA dedicated to the Woman of the Orient.

METÁFORA PARA FRIDA dedicated to the work and life of Frida Kahlo combined with women’s poetry.

And the other one, BOHEMIAN VINTAGE, is a show dedicated to an imaginary oriental café in the 30s.

I am also developing a project about García Lorca with important flamenco musicians where we will incorporate the Japanese Butoh technique into flamenco and Lorca’s poetry.

And as on top of all of that I’m preparing the edition of my first book on the anthropological evolution of dance. So lots to look forward to!

Tel 649540067

Email –

Ziryab show in which rose petals rain down from the roof of the theatre

Face to Face with Perla Gomes

April 15th, 2021 by

Sapient samba dancer, Perla tells us how dance has opened numerous doors in her life and those of others in her native Brazil.

How old were you when you first started dancing?

I was 5 years old when my aunt taught me my first Samba steps. By 7 years old I was entering Lambada competitions and by 11 I was choregraphing my own dance routines and I got into traditional folkloric dancing which is huge in Belem, my birth city. At 16 I formed a dance group for lambada, mambo y folk dancing. I am actually self-taught, learning by osmosis from all the influences that surrounded me.

What does dance mean to you?

Dance spells freedom! In order for one to dance you have to shed lots of beliefs, prejudices and fixed mindset. Despite studying IT, in the end dance won me over and took me to Spain aged 22 with 200 euros in my pocket. This is where I really felt fully free to dance.

Perla puts some Belem university students through their paces

What is it about teaching dance that you like especially?

I like to emphasise to my students that anyone and everyone is able to dance any kind of dance, as long as you feel liberated. And also teach them to feel free to dance so that they feel that sense of freedom for themselves!

We´re never too young to dance

Tell us about your charity, Perlas da Amazonia

 Everything I do both professionally and personally is related to the cause of promoting the Amazon and its people. It´s a lifelong passion of mine and involves two-way cultural, touristic and sustainability programmes to promote the Amazon to those outside and help those within. It´s very exciting to watch it thrive and grow.

What sort of events does your company organise?

Prosperity Art Production organises shows and cultural workshops; audiovisual productions including digital marketing, editing and recording as well as event management (both corporate and private fairs etc) We have worked in Tourism Fairs in Madrid, Lisbon and Berlin, put on a Christmas Show for the Prado and a charity event for Circo Price amongst other activities.

What is the history of Samba?

Samba has a long history of amalgamating sounds from Europe, Africa with local indigenous rhythms. The strong drum beat is similar to one´s own heartbeat.

You´re also a trained pilates teacher, is dancing samba helpful for pilates?

It helps as good coordination and body sense is fundamental but it´s not strictly helpful as such.

What advice would you give to anyone who thinks they have 2 left feet?

Shut your eyes, feel the music and let your body flow. Tell yourself you can dance and the power of your positive mind will enable you to do it!

Perla in an Amazonian communities

What´s next for Perla Gomes?

To grow my business digitally and to carry on with Perlas da Amazonia until it´s up there as one of the most important charities in the world!

Perla Gomes

Tel +34 690 38 28 96

Instagram: @perlagomesworld

Spotlight on Katharina von Samson

February 15th, 2020 by

This month we talk to German-born Katharina von Samson, former lawyer, current jewellery designer, volunteer gardener, seamstress, German School Parents’ Board member who has brought up 4 children and in addition to all of the above, still finds time to play the piano and participate in book clubs in Switzerland.

What brought you to Madrid in 2017?

We were simply looking for a change as neither mine nor my husband´s job tie us down to any particular place. So we took advantage of the fact we only had our 4th child, Amata, living at home and chose to move to one of the most wonderful cities in Europe.

How has it been different from living in Berne for 12 years?

Madrid is 44.3662 times bigger in terms of population, is 111 meters higher up, yet both have a bear in the city seal!

Why did you give up your job as a research assistant to Professor Paul Kirchhof, Vice President of the German Constitutional Court?

I was standing at my third child’s cot shouting at my daughter to fall asleep so I could get back to work – when I decided to switch my priorities.

Why did it take you long to accept that you are now a professional jewellery designer?

I always felt a positive tension between academic challenges to the mind and the joy of manual creativity. After a long education, I felt tempted and compelled to practice law. My creative side needed to outgrow a hobby before I realized that they are equivalent.

What are you favourite materials?

Anything that has life and colour in it and uncommon combinations such as shells with rubies.

What other artistic talents do you have?

Other means of expression are singing in the German School Choir, sewing (including my own wedding dress), playing the piano and interior decorating (relocating is a wonderful excuse!). When one of them is high up on my agenda, I go at it full tilt for weeks.

Your interest in music has led you to support a Peruvian charity, tell us more.

I believe that music is an essential element of child education and want to make it available to as many children the world over as I can.

Tell us how you got involved with the vibrant German community in Madrid.

Having relocated frequently, I’m pretty good at seeking out hot spots of interesting activity. The Protestant German Church (“Friedenskirche”) provided a home from home and an opportunity to enjoy a bit of gardening which living in an apartment here doesn’t offer. I believe that schools are more than just a place to keep kids busy and so I decided to volunteer on the Board of Parents of the German School.

Has anything surprised you about Madrid and its people?

Coming from notoriously punctual and “spic-and-span” clean Switzerland, I was pleasantly surprised not to find a significant difference over here.

What is your secret Madrid?

Browsing for creative material in the many craft supply shops between Plaza Mayor and Calle de Atocha.

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?

I´d be in the same place with two additional hands.

Face to Face with Laura Fontán of Chula Fashion

October 31st, 2019 by
Diego and Laura in the Grand Canyon

Today we talk to Laura Fontán, who together with her husband Diego Cortiza, founded an unusual slow fashion brand in Hanoi known as Chula and are revolutionising the textile industry worldwide with their visionary, responsible approach to global brand building.

How did Chula start?

Well, quite by chance. We arrived in Vietnam in 2004 and immediately fell in love with the people, the exotic food and the traditional culture. I loved having clothes made there and soon asked Diego to apply his artistic skills as a trained architect to designing outfits for me.  People started to inquire about my clothes and comment “how chula (cool) and can I have one too…?” So before we knew it we were producing a small collection of clothes on a tiny scale and selling them in other outlets before opening our own workshop and flagship store in Hanoi. We now have branches in Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok and Pop ups round the world.

Each garment is handmade

Is it true that 80% of your workforce have a disability?

Yes! Having found it difficult to find skilled seamstresses to make our clothes we were directed to a local charity-funded school that trained deaf people in three to five-year dressmaking courses. Ironically, disability is often partly compensated by significant talent in other non-related areas. In addition to being highly skilled, our workforce are extremely loyal, hardworking and as such they truly form the backbone of the Chula community and are very much part of our extended family. Our corporate language is sign language! Due to our own positive experience we also try to persuade other businesses to hire employees with some disability.

Chula´s Bull dress

Are the Vietnamese at all similar in any way to Spaniards?

Very much so. Vietnamese society revolves around family, food and being out and about in the street – just like in Spain! They also place a huge value on education and are a very proud nation. As foreigners it’s important to come armed with a certain degree of respect, which you can earn little by little, a bit like in Northern Spain or else they won’t take any notice of you. Vietnam reminds me of the Spain of my childhood in Galicia.

You make clothes for men as well but how would you define the “Chula woman”?

A lot of our clothes are custom made which is why our customers are so diverse both in terms of body shape, colour and age. We’ve had customers ranging from grandmothers to teens! However, they are all women who value clothes with a heritage and story behind them. The typical Chula woman is more interested original clothes than the latest fashion trends. Chula is about handmade sustainable slow fashion than up to the minute designs you throw away after one season.

Hemp dress

What´s the running theme in your Chula collections?

For Diego, clothes are like a blank canvas on which you project your own areas of interest such as culture, food and art. Chula clothes are literally wearable art. Our collections are inspired by Vietnamese heritage such as the 54 ethnic minorities in Northern Vietnam with their own prints and techniques.. We have about 40 collections ranging from animal prints to brightly coloured geometric patterns – above all they are fun and reflect the local culture whether that be through prints inspired by Hanoi railings, a pizza print dress we launched in Rome or a silk bull dress in Spain! 

What is wearable happiness?

We inject colour and humour into our collections which lift the spirits both of the wearer and the admirer. Our clothes are a magnet for comment, they’re real conversation pieces whenever they’re seen and instantly recognisable no matter where you are.

Peacock dress

You have Pop Ups all over the world, from Geneva to Jakarta, what´s next for Chula Fashion?

Our aim is to continue have different Chula shops all over the world and transform it into a global brand that emphasises our social commitment and values and pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of the host countries. See for details of a Pop Up near you.

Face to Face with Isabel Goiri Basaldúa

October 10th, 2019 by
Isabel Goiri Basaldúa headshot

“Haute Couture is not what it was……nowadays it´s so much better” beams Isabel Goiri Basaldúa, the third generation Creative Director of Casa Basaldúa who talks to us about her innovative plans to keep the family-owned fashion house at the forefront of design in Spain.

Casa Basaldúa has been a glittering reference for elegant Haute Couture in Madrid for three generations, how has the House evolved since your grandparents founded it in 1956?

Well, both the generations before me were very much fashion visionaries in their own way. My grandmother, Luisa de la Quintana would travel frequently to Paris to source cutting-edge fabrics and techniques that were hitherto unknown here in Madrid. Whilst my mother, Chus Basaldúa, put Casa Basaldúa firmly on the haute couture bridal gown map, introducing colour into wedding designs for the first time. Having literally grown up in the atelier I took over the creative helm in 2011 and since then we have chartered a course that encompasses a prêt-à-porter collection and even a jeans´ line alongside our bespoke haute couture wedding dresses.

What sets Casa Basaldúa apart from other Haute Couture designers?

Certainly the ability to really interpret a woman from the inside out because when you really understand the core of that woman it comes through in the clothes you design for her. There are many other fashion houses that design wonderful clothes but they don’t focus as much on the woman who wears them as we do. To the extent that there have been many occasions when we’ve come to know our clients better than she does.

Modern elegance

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Absolutely everywhere and anywhere. For example, the metro is a great mecca for fashion ideas as you see so much diversity in people, ages and looks.

Why the return to designing a fashion line alongside the bridal collection?

Well, we wanted to reach more women with pieces she can have fun with. This year’s prêt-à-porter collection crosses over seamlessly from day to evening and it’s very versatile with giant poppers and interchangeable straps.Dressing up in the evening seems to be having a bit of a revival these days.

Preserving artisanal skills

Tells us about the launch of your new techno-creative fashion school, La Tecnocreativa in Madrid this Autumn

Yes, we’re very excited as for years we’ve seen the decline of many of the old dressmaking skills that were once part of our heritage in Spain. We intend to revive these crafts such as traditional patternmaking, embroidery and lacemaking. Our courses are Basaldúa-branded and they will be very functional and practical. Ironically, many fashion students these days don’t know how to put together a meaningful portfolio that really does them justice.

Does technology play an important role in Casa Basaldúa?

Absolutely, I love the combination of the both the physical and digital practice of designing. Technology and innovation also play a key role in our courses such as how to put together digital moodboards, using 3D and virtual reality in fashion design.

What would you do if you weren’t a fashion designer?

I’d love to be a potter….practising the ancient Japanese art of Raku. I did a course one summer and fell in love with the technique.

Emblematic style

Who are your favourite iconic fashion designers?

Well they run the full spectrum of Gandhi at one end who actually wove his own clothes to Steve MacQueen at the other!

How does Spanish Haute Couture differ from the Italian or the French?

I think that creativity and cutting-edge style is in our blood yet we don’t shout about it. The Italians are certainly the best marketeers as well as the French to a lesser extent. However, the Spanish are much more reserved about promoting our products. We need to nurture the Haute Couture legacy that we have, hence the need for a technical fashion school that champions our heritage.

What’s your secret Madrid?

Probably having dinner in Rasputin. Both my husband and I studied Russian and this is a much-loved haunt of ours.

Casa Basaldúa, Calle Serrano 8. Madrid Tel 913 08 11 26.