The virus of fashion. Democratization of luxury and new commercial strategies in early modern Valencia
From Firenze University Press Book: Fashion as an economic engine: process and product innovation, commercial strategies, consumer behavior
Daniel Muñoz Navarro, University of València
It is not new that fashion was a widespread phenomenon in eighteenth-century European cities. In addition, the social and cultural approach has prevailed in the study of this topic during the last decades (Roche 1991; Belfanti 2008). However, it is worth asking about the economic effects of this phenomenon, so it is necessary to return to case studies, such as the one presented in the following pages. This study is situated within the current research on «retail revolution», which has valued the role played by changes in supply and commercialisation systems in the process of modern economic growth (Stobart and Hann 2004; Dewilde 2015; Blondé and Van Damme 2015). However, a brief examination of the specialized literature confirms that this approach has been limited to the more developed regions of north-western Europe (Mui and Mui 1989; Cox 2000; Stobart 2005, Benson and Ugolini 2005; Blondé, Stobart et al. 2006; Blondé, Briot et al. 2005). One of the questions this research seeks to answer is to confirm that this process, closely linked to fashion and the diffusion of new consumption patterns, was not exclusive to the more urbanised areas of Europe, and can also be extended to the context of southern Europe. Mediterranean cities experienced similar processes of diffusion and imitation of new fashions, developing their fixed textile commercialisation systems, in response to renewed consumption behaviors in which colourfulness and design of garments were dominant qualities above durability.
In doing so, it will be provided a diachronic analysis of the textile supply in one of the main cities of the Spanish Mediterranean façade, asking when the first substantial changes in retail systems took place, who were the protagonists and what were the channels of diffusion of the new fashions in eighteenth-century Valencia. For the Spanish case, Pierre Vilar highlighted the role botigas (shops) and retail trade played in the economic development of Catalonia in the eighteenth century. The author pointed out that «the botiga, when it acquires a certain importance, almost always has a “company” that finances it». The capitalist nature of these companies entailed, on multiple occasions, «the formation, frequent indeed, of individual fortunes and the rise of certain families» (Vilar 1988, 159–60). Through the abundant information provided by private Catalan documentation, Vilar underlined the transformative nature of these commercial establishments, the role of their protagonists in shaping the Catalan eighteenth-century bourgeoisie, and, finally, the contribution of shops (together with other essential business models, such as the «barca» or the «compañía») to the merchant capital accumulation and, ultimately, to capitalist economic growth. All this was crucial in the Catalan policy of redreç — the implemented measures to reactivate the economy of Catalonia in the final decades of the seventeenth century. However, this process was not exclusive to the Catalan area but also stood out in other cities in Mediterranean Europe, such as Barcelona (Torra 2003), Naples (Clemente 2011), Rome (Ago 2006), and Valencia (Muñoz 2015; 2018).
Fashion undoubtedly stimulated economic growth in the more developed regions of northwestern Europe. In addition, it also did so in the Mediterranean area since this economic and social transformation was also present there (Yun and Torras 1999; Muñoz 2011; Nigro 2015). The city of Valencia participated very actively in this transformation, developing an important sector of the merchant petty bourgeoisie and changing consumption patterns in most of the population. However, it is necessary to study in-depth how the influence of fashion in eighteenth-century Spain transformed the commercial structure, making the petty bourgeoisie the main protagonist and shops the central scene of the changes. The case study is eighteenth-century Valencia, a dynamic city that experienced remarkable economic development during that century (Franch 1986; 2000). The main challenge to analyse this process is the fragmentation of the sources, requiring complementary archival collections to piece together the evolution of retail strategies implemented by cloth botigueros (shopkeepers) established in Valencia in the eighteenth century.
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