The Spanish Issue
DUST Issue 22 Editor’s Letter
This issue of DUST and its title differ from most concepts and themes we have developed over the last decade—issues which have attempted to explore the contemporary experience of youths from an existential perspective within the context of the times we live in.
Fashion magazines—as we understand and define them—should be nothing but a thoughtful, visual representation of our contemporary existential experience backed by a strong point of view. Their relevance stems from how they employ beauty and aesthetics to express current culture. After all, fashion and image-making aren’t just about products. They are intrinsically rooted in aesthetics: that form which reveals to the viewer a liminal world caught between matter and concept, object and idea, flesh and spiritual, tangible and incorporeal, a world with an ever-expanding horizon.
‘We Have No Fathers’, ‘Every Reaction Is A Failure’, ‘You and I Will Soon Be Dust’, ‘Love More’, ‘Sun Rising’, ‘Epitome’ and many other DUST issues before them all aimed at examining the foundations of the contemporary experience of youths through a critical analysis—providing context for this consequential visual journey.
This issue, however, is different. It is more personal. For this reason, unlike previous ones, this introduction won’t proceed to analyse today’s culture within a sociological and psychological context. Rather, it will be personal and centred around a place we hold dear.
In the same vein as Issue 15, ‘Mamma Italia’—an ode to our country of origin and its virtues we value the most—this issue is an ode to the country we have chosen to live in: Spain. After being based in Berlin for more than ten years, the core nucleus of the magazine: Luca and myself, co-founders and editors-in-chief, and Emanuela, the magazine’s art director, have decided to settle here. Emanuela and I in Mallorca, Luca in Madrid. Or rather, we all moved back to Spain, where we had lived before 2008, in the final stretch of those dreamy early-2000s, before the global financial crisis hit.
Although we all met in Florence, where we were studying, Luca and I moved to Madrid in 2007. I was preparing my thesis on the history of photography, and Luca was attending his two Erasmus semesters at the Art Academy in Madrid. Around the same time, Emanuela quit her political science studies in Florence to move to Barcelona and study graphic design. I’m writing this because, at the time, Spain wasn’t a random choice but rather an emerging hub of creativity, besides the equally-as-hyped London, Paris and new-kid-on-the-block Berlin.
In Italy, we were in the period between the third and fourth Berlusconi governments. Put simply, the time before his sex scandals. By then, his hypocritical charming populism supported by commercial TV channels and state institutions—through which he had been governing since 2001—had slowly and painfully killed any aspirations and interest we might have had in staying in the country. The vision of a generation and the burst of creativity that Italy had always upheld seemed to vanish quickly during those years. I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating when putting things into perspective. Back then, we didn’t fully grasp how populism—and this was a type of populism that predated Web 2.0—could become like quicksand for any society. In fact, 15 years of ‘anti-Berlusconism’ have not produced anything culturally relevant; in the same way, anti-Trumpism hasn’t either, if not for the excess of cancel culture and left-wing hysteria, convincing us once and for all that populism is a slow social downward spiral that can paralyse a country for years—Brits might know this all too well now.
A different story, however, unfolded in Spain in the early 2000s. Three days before the 2004 general election, a terrorist attack struck Madrid’s central train station, killing 193 people. The then right-wing government rushed to attribute the attack to the Basque separatist group ETA in an attempt to influence the elections. This backfired when evidence linked the attacks to a group connected to Al-Qaeda, triggering people—a population already against the war in Iraq—to vote in mass for the opposition leader. That’s how against all odds, the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero won by a vast majority and was elected Prime Minister. A role he quickly used to establish himself as a beacon of social democracy in Europe.
Spain—a country with a predominantly Catholic population, isolated from the rest of Europe by a fascist military dictatorship that had ended only thirty years prior—suddenly became a symbol of European progress. The country experienced an incredible economic boom in the 90s and early 2000s—a growth rate of 3.5% a year and a GDP increasing from 72% to nearly 94% compared to the European average. With Zapatero, this acceleration seemed to spread to social issues and civil rights too. This new national confidence drove the country forward and catalysed it to distance itself as much as possible from its troubled past.
Within a few years, the government signed off incredibly progressive laws for the time. Same-sex marriage, including adoption rights, were legalised despite harsh opposition in 2005, making Spain the third country in the world to enact such laws. A very advanced gender identity law was passed, as well as legislation concerning domestic and gender violence. For the first time, laws were ratified addressing the legacy of the past, compensating for those who had suffered under the dictatorship and Civil War. The keen interest to invest in researchers and higher education became a priority to foster Spain’s economic development, and a massive regularisation of undocumented immigrants gave fundamental rights to thousands of people.
It seemed like Spain had understood that a better future for everyone meant a better future for the country, and it was headed in that direction at full speed. I’m mentioning all of this because it is the very reason we went to Spain in the first place and why we saw this country as a source of progress, hope and opportunities. Not that this was particularly unusual in other countries, but the radical changes a society—especially in southern Europe—could undergo in such a short time was something galvanising, new and exciting. This is what Spain represented to us and how we experienced it.
Since then, this renewed sense of freedom and justice, fostering the legacy of the Transition period, seems to have reverberated in every aspect of Spanish society, especially for those generations who have grown up in that context, giving them an advantage over many of their peers and preparing the fertile ground for today’s flourishing creative scene.
In 2008, I was covering the election campaign for a local magazine, and on the night of the election, I went to The Spanish Socialist Workers Party’s (PSOE) headquarters in Calle Ferraz in Madrid. I remember the exact moment when Zapatero’s second mandate materialised, igniting the street and all the progressive sectors of the nation with it. When he burst onto the stage in front of the party’s building, the street Calle Ferraz which had been swarming with people for hours, exploded, becoming an ecstatic wave of tears, chants, and red flags, vibrating with such a sense of relief and accomplishment that it all felt so overwhelming.
More than a victory celebration party, it seemed like the welcoming of a brighter future that was already washing over so many people, along with the definitive legitimation of a force that would have soon spread throughout Europe—let’s not forget that this government became the first in European history to have a majority of women in its cabinet. Next to me, an immigrant woman kept crying, holding onto her daughter while the crowd swaying as one single body kept growing, taking us in, merging the chants into a single roaring voice, ‘Ista, ista, ista, España es socialista’ a refrain that could be heard throughout the streets and far beyond. ‘Ista, ista, ista, España es socialista’ we all shouted at the top of our lungs while waving back to a glowing Zapatero, proudly standing on that stage.
If that had felt like the peak of something, it declined rapidly. In the following months, the global economic crisis became unstoppable. When the US’ real estate bubble burst, it quickly impacted the Spanish housing sector, which accounted for 18.5% of the country’s GDP—twice the Eurozone’s average. Within a year, the once miraculous Spanish model would be over once and for all.
From its side, Zapatero’s government—while reassuring investors and the population that the economy would manage to take the hit—failed to understand the nature of the crisis. The unsustainable and inflated growth that had taken place since then masked the reality of low productivity and competition. As the government attempted to implement emergency measures to address the crisis, the ever-growing private sector debt, account imbalances, reckless bank investments and overconfident loans had already contributed to digging the country further into a hole. The effects were devastating.
2009 was the worst year on record: the GDP fell by 3.7%. Unemployment reached over 4 million people (increasing to 6 million in 2012), and the public deficit reached a record 11.4% of GDP (from 3.4% in 2008). In the following years, Spain’s youth experienced the highest unemployment rate in Europe, with 50% of unemployed people being under 25. By the summer of 2012, Spanish financial institutions were on the brink of collapse, forcing the European Union to devise an emergency €100 billion rescue plan.
Meanwhile, the government’s disastrous management of these issues inevitably led to the defeat of the Socialist Party and the victory of the right-wing Popular Party (PP), which stayed in power till 2018. It was a time of austerity and recession. Many young people fled to other countries in search of work. These were the years of the Indignados Movement—an early Spanish version of Occupy Wall Street—which evolved into alternative political parties, such as Podemos, ending the national bipartisan model. Soon later, Catalonia held a referendum to break away from Spain, triggering the most severe political crisis since the restoration of democracy in 1975. Furthermore, this was a regressive period for social and political rights; for instance, a 2013 abortion law attempted to allow the practice only in cases of rape or health risks. Thankfully, the conquests of previous decades firmly entrenched in the population ultimately prevailed.
Between 2015 and 2019, the country froze during four rounds of general elections. In 2018, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was forced out of office due to corruption scandals, becoming the first leader in Spain’s modern democracy to lose to a vote of no confidence. In the wake of the second 2019 elections, PSOE and the far-left party, Unidas Podemos, agreed to form a coalition government, becoming Spain’s first ruling coalition since the Second Spanish Republic of the 1930s. This round of elections also saw the concerning rise of far-right nationalist parties, which have since disturbingly continued to grow in popularity.
Nevertheless, Spain appears to be undergoing a rebirth at the moment. Despite the pandemic years, the Spanish economy appears to be stable and uniquely resilient to the current energy crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Today, its high import capacity of liquefied natural gas could lead Spain to become an essential player in the EU’s asset pool.
The country that only joined the EU in 1986, has remained one of its most pro-European members, despite being often considered one of its more undervalued nations. For many reasons, Spain stands out as an exception, primarily due to its history, which differs significantly from other European countries. A few examples include the 700-year-long Muslim domination in the Peninsula until the 14th century, making Spain the home of the golden age of Islamic civilisation or the fact that Spain didn’t experience a defining moment such as WWII in the same way as other EU countries. The examples throughout its past are numerous, but despite its differences, all these internal and external idiosyncrasies have made Spain today a uniquely fertile ground that is still set to flourish.
We have chosen to move to Spain for many reasons: its location, its people, its spirit, as well as its ease of being unpretentious and real. Or, perhaps, for its way of looking ahead and prioritising individuality over traditional beliefs. Or, maybe, even because it’s a country that isn’t scared of change and takes on challenges boldly. We love Spain, especially because of its fervent youths and how they are now bringing their heritage alive, finally finding their voice in contemporary culture. For all these reasons, this issue of DUST and its title differ from the concepts and themes we have developed over the last decade. This is a personal issue with a first-person perspective on the country we now call home. This is our Spanish Issue.