I spent my research fellowship at the Bard Graduate Center working on a book about Spanish fashion during the reign of Philip IV (1621–1665)—a period that is well-known for the bizarre clothes and accessories that were immortalized by the painter Diego Velázquez in court portraits, most famously in his masterpiece Las Meninas. None of the clothes that were worn at the court of Philip IV survive today, but the sumptuous garments and accessories are described—sometimes with great detail—in account records that are preserved at the Royal Palace Archive in Madrid. The tailors, embroiderers, hatters, shoemakers, and many other artisans who were engaged in the job of dressing the court enumerated their labor in cuentas that they submitted when requesting payment—which was usually slow to come from the royal coffers, and, when it finally did, was much less than the work was worth. At first glance, these account records offer little more than tedious and repetitive lists (a black dress, a brown dress, another black dress…), but they yield all sorts of interesting information—and raise some difficult questions—upon closer inspection.

Reading the accounts of the royal shoemaker Andrés de Bustamente, for example, I ran across an unfamiliar kind of shoe called a zapato cariñano. In 1659, Bustamante made eighteen pairs of zapatos cariñanos lined in carnation-colored taffeta for Queen Mariana of Austria and no fewer than 104 pairs for the infanta María Teresa. A quick Google search revealed that the adjective “cariñano” derives from the name of the Princess of Carignano, Marie de Bourbon. She was married to Prince Tomasso Francesco of the House of Savoy, a sometimes ally of Philip IV, who sent his family to Spain in order to prove his loyalty. The Princess of Carignano arrived in Madrid in November of 1636 to great fanfare. A printed account of the festivities reports that the Frenchwoman was dressed in silver and gold brocade, and it notes that she appeared to be about thirty-two years old and was very pretty, delicate of body, with blue eyes, a somewhat sharp nose, and two moles on her face that made her even more attractive. The princess’s visit to the Spanish court turned into a political nightmare for everyone involved. Suspected of treason, she was kept under luxurious house arrest at the expense of Philip IV (who provided tapestries from the royal collection for her residence) until she was finally sent home in 1644.

The controversial Princess of Carignano made quite a mark on Spanish women’s fashions during her involuntary extended stay in Madrid. In addition to the zapatos cariñanos that were being made for the Spanish queen and infanta fifteen years after her departure, the Princess of Carignano also lent her name to a collar (valona cariñana) and a hoopskirt with a “Carignano hip” (cadera cariñana). But what did a Carignano collar, shoe, or skirt actually look like? Matching textual terms to visual evidence and surviving objects is one of the thorniest problems in fashion history. We would search in vain for visual representations of the Carignano shoe, since women’s feet are always covered by their long skirts in seventeenth-century Spanish portraits—a glimpse of shoe would have been an unspeakable scandal. As luck would have it, though, a contemporary literary source provides a clue to the mystery shoe.

In Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s comedic interlude El Parnaso (1659), a shoemaker refers to a puentecilla cariñana—that is, a “little Carignano bridge.” What could this be? According to June Swann, an expert on the history of shoes and shoemaking, this would have been a so-called “slap-sole” shoe with a flat flap attached at the front that slapped against the heel when the wearer walked around. Surviving examples of this unusual seventeenth-century trend include a beautiful pair of slap-sole shoes in embroidered white leather and salmon-colored silk decorated with silver lace at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I was lucky to be at Bard Graduate Center at the same time as Corinne Thépaut-Cabasset, who suggested that we organize a workshop on early modern fashion for the BGC community. When I presented the case of the zapato cariñano at the workshop, this little problem that I had been trying to solve led to a conversation about a much bigger issue—the relationship between fashion trends and foreign travelers. Participants in the workshop shared strikingly similar stories, from very different times and places, of fashion innovations that were attributed to intriguing foreigners: Abigail Balbale recounted the story of Ziryab, a musician from Baghdad who was credited with bringing countless cultural innovations—including striped fabric, bangs, and deodorant—to the ninth-century court of the Córdoba Caliphate. In seventeenth-century Paris, Corinne Thépaut-Cabasset recounted, savvy marketers sold fans called “éventails à la dauphine,” named after the Dauphine Marie-Anne-Christine of Bavaria. Michele Majer contributed the story of another German princess in Louis XIV’s France—the Princess Palatine Elisabeth Charlotte, known as Liselotte—who wore a fur cape that came to be called a “palatine.” In the context of these stories—and many more could be told—the Carignano shoe ceases to be a singular thing and becomes instead part of a repeating pattern in fashion history.

If the zapatos cariñanos that Andrés de Bustamante made for the royal Spanish women in 1659 were in fact slap-sole shoes, then they probably had nothing to do with the Princess of Carignano—who had arrived in Madrid over twenty years before the style became popular. The unusual, ostentatious shoe may have been named by promoters—or perhaps by detractors—who wanted to associate the fashion with the infamous foreigner known for her beauty and opulence who had caused such a stir in Madrid decades earlier. Heard but not seen, the zapatos cariñanos worn at the court would have evoked the memory of their namesake with every noisy footstep.

Amanda Wunder, Associate Professor of History at the City University of New York’s Lehman College in the Bronx; Bard Graduate Center Research Fellow, September–December 2017.