The mantón de Manila was introduced to Europe through Spanish trade. Interestingly, mantones de Manila were not from Manila, but rather from China. European access to Asian silks came primarily via the Philippines, which was under Spanish rule. For many years the point of entry for all international Spanish trade was Triana, and mantones were popular in Sevilla and Andalucia above all.
Originally embroidered with dragons, pagodas, and other such Asian motifs, the European women preferred roses and peacocks and so supply met demand, as per usual, and the embroidery changed to meet the European market.
The flecos, or fringes, were a European modification. This hand-knotting process is called macrame, and is the same craft that was popular in 1960’s Americana. The trend of the fringed shawl became an iconic staple of Spanish fashion, and remains so to this day.
The mantón became incorporated into baile flamenco much like other fashion trends of their time such as the bata de cola or abanico. Street fashion became incorporated onto the stage, where it became exaggerated, elevated, and glorified. To this day, the mantón de manila is an iconic representation of Spanish fashion and a quality mantón is very much something of a status symbol.
Speaking of quality… all mantones are not created equal. The silk, embroidery, and flecos all vary, and this makes all the difference for baile as well as fashion. Many mantones are still made in China, but the best are made in Spain of pure silk, are hand-embroidered and knotted the old-school way. These can cost thousands of dollars.
The type of mantón you will prefer will change as your baile develops. Many dancers prefer a light mantón for learning, but heavier, higher-quality mantones are far more rewarding to manipulate. As a beginner one is concerned with the basic movements and just getting the darn thing around the body without stepping on the flecos and tearing the silk (which really sucks). Keep in mind, it is ok to start out with an inexpensive, light manton. You can learn the basics and not destroy something very valuable if you start on the cheap and light.
Later, as you develop comfort with the movements and gain strength you will want something that has substance and that can match your power. A favorite teaching moment was when one of my dancers returned to using a “learning” mantón and said, “I can’t believe I ever preferred this!” ❤ ❤ ❤
Beware of the polyester triangular sort. I get it that they are affordable and have the “look” from a very basic perspective, but believe me. It is not the same thing. It may be tempting at 6 euro, and could work for a children’s dance costume (if you are outfitting 25 little flamencas) but you run the risk of looking like a cheap Halloween version. No bueno.
Here are some varying quality flecos side by side. Density is key in three regards; the thickness of the thread, the quantity of strands, and the frequency or style of knotting.
Also, consider the quality of the embroidery and silk. The silk is the canvas on which the embroidery is placed, so heavier embroidery usually means a higher quality fabric.
Whatever you choose for your learning and performing, I hope this helps you understand the differences in mantones. If you have any questions or info you’d like to share, please do so! Abrazos y besos!