One hundred years pulling the strings of cinema

Ava Gardner, Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, David Niven or John Wayne are some of the stars who have undergone their patterns and cuts, their needles and pins. It is the most important stage clothing factory in the country and one of the main in Europe; the most recognized and veteran costume factory for film, opera, theater and television. It is the Cornejo tailor shop, which has just turned one hundred years old. A small but huge family business with 45 employees and 12,000 square meters of warehouses and workshops.

There is debate, within the company, about the number of people who could leave its headquarters in Madrid and its warehouses in Cabanillas del Campo and Azuqueca de Henares dressed. The numbers are outrageous. “I think we could dress 400,000 men and women, although some manager assures me that with the more than four million garments we have we could give half a million clothes,” says Humberto Cornejo, patriarch of the third generation of the saga that leads his surname. A glance at the facilities of his emporium tells us that he is not exaggerating with the numbers.

More Oscars than anyone

With the clothes manufactured there, fifty designers have won 58 Costume Awards in cinema, including 13 Oscars, 25 Goya, 13 César and 7 Bafta

In any case, with the clothes manufactured there, fifty designers have won 58 national and international awards for Costume in cinema, among them 13 Oscars, 25 Goya, 13 César and 7 Bafta. It goes without saying that no one in Spain has won so many Oscars or Goyas.

Our visit to the Cornejo house progresses like a complete review of a dress: from head to toe. One of the oldest managers, Alfredo Martínez, who has been here for 35 years, acts as a guide. His father and grandmother also spent half their lives in these workshops. Which is not an exception but the rule of the century-old tailor shop, where most of the workers have a family member inside. Another case is that of Mar Balmon, head of the hat shop and wife of the man in charge of the shoe shop, Julio Bachiller. The moment we invade her area, she is repairing some military caps of Napoleon’s armies originally made for The canyons of Navarone (1961). Balmon does not know in which movie or series they are going to be reused, he only has the vague idea that they are for a flashback or remembrance; With the amount of arrangements and confections that they make at the same time – about 20 or 25 films and montages according to Humberto Cornejo – it is common for operators to be unaware of the destination of the pieces.

The Fall of the Roman Empire ‘, with’ Sophia Loren and Stephen Boyd: one of the first commissions that the Cornejo tailor shop did for Hollywood

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Among the orders they receive, there are more those for the adaptation of clothing in storage than those for the manufacture of new clothing. Hence the importance of the overwhelming stock that the Dogwoods store. Although a part of the clothes is bought, the majority comes from his old productions. Like the costumes that the house made for the barbarians of The fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and that, almost 60 years later, he has recovered to dress the guardians of the night of Game of Thrones already characters of the series Vikings .

The allusion to The fall of the Roman Empire (1963), which Anthony Mann shot in Spain with Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness and James Mason, forces us to draw on the family memory to remember the origin and historical milestones of the tailoring shop.

Armor in the tailoring warehouse in Cabanillas del Campo

Armor in the tailoring warehouse in Cabanillas del Campo

EMILIA GUTIERREZ

The company was born almost by chance, in 1920. It was when Humberto Cornejo Arenillas, grandfather of the current boss and great-grandfather of those who will soon succeed him, Paula and Humberto Cornejo Rodríguez, received from his in-laws a collection of formal clothes and costumes. He first rented them for parties and shows. Then he set up a tailor shop to do more. And it did not stop growing.

After making a name for himself in the theater, zarzuela and the nascent film industry, and with a period in which the company remained confiscated and under the control of the CNT, Humberto and his sons Vicente and Julio received the definitive boost when the producer of origin Russian Samuel Bronston settled in Spain and hired them for productions such as King of Kings, El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, 55 days in Beijing O The fabulous world of the circus .

They were different times. “In order to El Cid 30,000 people had to be dressed, “says tailor Carlos González. But now it’s the special effects that they dress by computer to the great masses of extras. The production companies and even more so the platforms adjust the budgets to the maximum and “wait until the last minute to do the orders in order to save salaries”. So a movie like While the war lasts (Amenábar), who moved “more than a thousand suits, yearns for Humberto Sr., he is an exception. “If it weren’t for the fact that we still sell abroad, the numbers wouldn’t come out,” he admits.

Penélope Cruz in 'The girl of your eyes', one of the many Spanish films dressed by Cornejo

Penélope Cruz in ‘The girl of your eyes’, one of the many Spanish films dressed by Cornejo

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From time to time the tailor’s shop receives visits like the one Robert de Niro did, “with his three caravans at our door” to The bridge of San Luis Rey (2004). Or like the one Arnold Schwarzenegger had done earlier to Conan the barbarian (1982). “Although he was quite naked, his clothing pieces were very complicated,” he says, again wistfully.

The Romans “according to Hollywood”

The garments can be adjusted to the historical rigor or be falsified: by requirements of the script or because Hollywood “invents” how the Romans dressed, for example

The costumes that Cornejo’s tailors make for film, theater and television can be totally reliable and require careful documentation of the time that they date or be partially or completely falsified. by script needs. This occurs if, for example, Netflix or another platform is interested in locating a series in an undetermined place “and then they order us uniforms that may resemble those of the Civil Guard but also other police officers out there.” Or when “as my grandfather used to say”, adds Carlos González, from the United States they are asked for clothes “for a movie about Romans according to Hollywood”, that is, for some sui generis Romans.

The stock of the tailor shop in its warehouse in Cabanillas del Campo (photo) and others gives to dress

The stock of the tailor shop in its warehouse in Cabanillas del Campo (photo) and others gives to dress “half a million people”

EMILIA GUTIERREZ

European designers are more rigorous. “The British are the strictest with documentation, and the French with production,” illustrates the cutter María de Luis, 24 years old in Cornejo. And his colleague González recalls a French documentary on Napoleon in which “some buttons had to be made with a specific design that were only used for three years.”

Humberto Cornejo among his children and heirs to the business, Paula and Humberto Cornejo Rodríguez

Humberto Cornejo among his children and heirs to the business, Paula and Humberto Cornejo Rodríguez

EMILIA GUTIERREZ

As viewers we can barely notice the often laborious details of what Hollywood and local actors wear. “But the general impression does change depending on the way things have been done, and here we try to do them well”, defends Alfredo Martínez. You do not need to insist. The tailor shop that gave him life has been there for a century. It will be for something.

Detail of the making of a dress for the character Isabel la Católica in the Puy du Fou theme park

Detail of the making of a dress for the character Isabel la Católica in the Puy du Fou theme park

EMILIA GUTIERREZ