Evita in Front of the Mirror

By Marcelo Marino - Editor


Victoria Britos


About the book:

Eva Perón, one of the most fascinating characters of Argentine history, is also one of the greatest fashion icons of all time. Evita’s style is unmistakable, and it evolved at each stage of her short yet intense artistic and political life. By exploring Eva’s connection with fashion, a key aspect of the myth created around her can be revealed. The chapters comprised in Evita in Front of the Mirror examine her relationship with fashion designer Paco Jaumandreu, her extraordinary 1947 European tour, and the wealth of the traditional Spanish costume collection she was gifted during those travels. Eva was right at the epicenter of the birth and rise of haute couture after the Second World War, and she was a major client of fashion designers of the caliber of Christian Dior or Jacques Fath, as well as shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. Except for detractors who pointed out that her fondness for luxury, clothes, jewelry, and accessories was contradictory to her discourse and social work, her role in the context of the fashion system of the time was seldom appreciated. Eva and her entourage excelled at the use of fashion for political and communication purposes. This book also delves into the complex ties between appearances, Peronist discourse, and the figure of the descamisado, along with the construction of Evita’s public image.


Introduction: Myths also wear clothes

Marcelo Marino


Think about Eva Perón, and inevitably the myth comes to mind. The chapters comprised in this book do not attempt to demystify her figure. Actually, they claim in various ways that, far from being a fanciful creation, this myth is a representation of reality. Mythical Evita is a character of a unique nature, so any effort to give a conclusive meaning to aspects of her life and fortune in the contexts of Argentine and world history would be futile. Narratives about Eva are everchanging, constructed randomly and like spirals; they are disorganized and full of contradictions, repetitions, and scenes that do not follow a chronological order—just like memories, tales, and dreams. To elucidate them, one can only try to contextualize the many narratives explaining the myth.

Eva’s first connection to fashion can be traced back to the time when she was a movie and radio actress, in a life when she was yet to meet Juan Domingo Perón. Accessing this hazy period is always difficult. All records of Evita’s life prior to her activism have been continuously kept under wraps—first, by Eva herself; then, by those who wanted to defend her from anti-Peronism during her political career; and, finally, by the sanitized narratives that commemorate her, still reproduced to this day. Nevertheless, broiling in this murky and obscure primordial soup, were some precious images that allow us to study her links to fashion. In fact, Eva Duarte was a fashion model right when this profession was at a turning point. Whereas in the 1910s and 1920s models visited dressmakers and mainly displayed products in private or semipublic fashion shows in halls of couture houses, in the 1930s, “a truly professional system was built” for them. Gabriele Monti wisely points out the concept of “system” as a highly specific work relationship emerged between models, fashion magazines, editors, and agents, for an audience that consumed a print culture that was halfway between women’s press, current events, and entertainment. These publications were aimed at working-class readers, and informed both female and male perspectives on fashion. Many of the photographs taken of Eva since her arrival in Buenos Aires in 1935 were published in these magazines. What they all have in common is that they showcase the model’s specific skill: posing. Eva is seen as someone who expresses herself through her body, her half‑nakedness, her hair, her hands, as she interacts with objects. She was just one step away from acting. Eva’s biographies tend to overlook the fact that the establishment of the myth has been deeply embedded in the fashion system. From a fashion theory perspective, Eva was part of a system where each of her work decisions made perfect sense.

In her brilliant essay about the first fashion shows and the role of mannequins, Caroline Evans mentions two key aspects that help understand the moment when Eva Duarte first appeared, and everything that came afterwards, when she evolved from model-actress to Evita Perón, the icon. Firstly, Evans discusses the myths, fantasies, and prejudices surrounding the modeling profession. Models were living objects that animated clothes, using their bodies as currency, with unclear social and family origins, vanity and extravagance, beauty that gradually turns into artifice, and fascination and attraction exerted by their sheer presence—all these labels have been, either mildly or passionately, used with Eva. During her lifetime and after her death, Eva Perón always carried that imaginary regarding both models and actresses, which also fed the main arguments behind the political attacks of her opponents. Many of Eva’s biographies, even the better intentioned, have echoed these assumptions too. Admittedly, these representations of models were somewhat true, but they also included extremely fictional aspects—thus, inspiring a myriad of stories. Oftentimes, models did not lead such miserable, marginalized, extravagant, or glamorous lives. As a matter of fact, the essence of their job was to create a fantasy, an appearance made up of poses and gestures. Despite the dash of glamour, boldness, and elegance their pictures could exude, modeling was yet another remunerated job.

Secondly, Evans raises the question of the modeling profession as a class masquerade (Evans, 2013:185-199). The modeling profession, practically by definition and especially since the 1930s, can also be perceived as a portfolio of techniques of the body for class concealment. When the model animates a dress striking a pose, she negotiates her subjectivity and adopts codes and gestures that belong to a social group she inhabits but to which she was not born. She sparks desire, attraction, and rejection, while emerging as a new social identity. During the 1920s and 1930s, this masquerading allowed many model-actresses to become wives, partners, and lovers of men and women of the upper classes or with more stable or better-paid jobs. Trivial though it may seem, this information should not be downplayed, since it refers to the spaces of autonomy and freedom fostered by most trades and professions historically related to fashion and dressmaking (Baldasarre, 2021:77‑129). Evidently, these social mobility mechanisms provoked criticism, worries, and defiance—and they still do. I do not intend to focus on the value judgment regarding these strategies, but rather to outline how Eva entered this universe made of customs that stemmed mostly from the social protocols of the fashion world.

This class masquerading device that harnessed the mannequin’s skills operated at different levels and could also apply to the drama role Eva played best—the radio actress. Thus, she went from performing with her body to embodying different identities with her voice (Ehrick, 2015:102‑135). Every mood practiced in countless poses was projected through the sounds of the radio dramas (Soria, 2005:23).

By no means do I wish to establish a direct causal connection between Eva’s modeling stage and her path in the radio and performing arts, nor do I intend to claim that she only developed a relationship with Juan Domingo Perón thanks to her professional skills. Eva also proved to have clear political concerns. However, I find the analysis of her figure as part of the fashion system quite thought‑provoking, since it helps us debunk or nuance assumptions about her alleged bad taste in clothes, her vulgarity, and her lack of manners or talent. In the world of entertainment and politics, Eva Duarte’s early mark and survival instincts confirmed that the opposite was true.

Although for the most part the following chapters start at the end of Eva’s artistic career and the beginning of her political life, I find it crucial to set forth the idea that this early connection to fashion could have had a great impact on her sophisticated communication strategies through her appearance. No wonder the fiercest and harshest criticism she had to face was directed at her looks. The arena chosen to fight these battles was one of clothes, jewelry, and luxury consumption.

One of the objectives of this book is to shed light on the particular use Eva made of fashion, avoiding the commonplace analysis that excessive frivolity was at odds with the Peronist popular discourse. This avoidance does not mean turning a blind eye to these arguments; instead, it is about understanding that the many pieces needed to build Evita’s myth—that of her body and her appearance—are also shaped and held together by a significant fashion discourse.


Translated by Mariel Kozynski Waserman - Edited by María del Carmen Propato