Intimate tales from the closet of Gabriel García Marquez
The Nobel Prize-winning author’s heirs are selling jackets, shirts and dresses belonging to him and his wife, Mercedes Barcha, as a way to offer a glimpse into their lives and raise money for indigenous children
“Looking through someone’s closet is such an intimate thing,” says the actress Emilia García Elizondo, granddaughter of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez and his wife, Mercedes Barcha. Speaking from the inner courtyard of the house where Los Gabos, as the couple were known, lived for decades in the residential area of Jardines del Pedregal in Mexico City, García Elizondo explains that she has just spent two and a half months dusting, exploring and itemizing her grandparents’ clothing.
On display are over 400 items that she has put up for sale: coats, dresses, bags, shoes, ties and handkerchiefs belonging to her grandparents. “Los Gabos left a lot of clothes, and we didn’t know what to do with it all,” she admits.
The house was left without both its long-term residents last year, following the death of Mercedes Bacha in August – García Márquez passed away in 2014 – and since then the family has been working to turn it into a cultural space. It will not be a museum, but a place dedicated to art which they have called the Gabriel García Márquez House of Literature.
The first public event to let people see the famous home of García Márquez and Bacha is this clothing sale. In order to attend, it is necessary to make a prior appointment through the space’s Instagram account. But on the morning of October 20, close friends of the couple were invited to a preview to sift through the contents of Los Gabos’ closet.
García Elizondo explains that she selected items that were in good condition for the sale, or those that could be considered iconic. “What I most remember about Gabo [García Márquez] are his tweed jackets,” she says. There are around 20 of these emblematic coats that the Colombian author would wear on cold Bogotá mornings or rainy Mexico City afternoons. One of the most valuable items, a black-and-white striped jacket, still carries a stain on an interior pocket from the time when one of his pens leaked. “We also found a pen he used to sign his books in another jacket,” says García Elizondo, holding up a Sharpie that once belonged to the writer.
There are Calvin Klein, Armani and Hugo Boss items among García Márquez’s clothes, but what he always preferred were tailored clothes. “A lot of what was in his closet were things he had had made specifically for him. He ordered shirts with big pockets for his glasses and his pens,” García Elizondo says. In his vast library there is a table where some of these shirts are laid out with the names of his favorite tailors. “Raúl González: shirt-maker,” features on many.
“He also had a tailor called José Mejía, who we think is Colombian. He had shirts made in France, Colombia and Italy.” García Elizondo decided not to add a tailored coat made for her grandfather by Emilio Velarde Rodríguez in which the Nobel laureate signed his name in blue ink on a woven patch with the date of its acquisition, March 30, 1983. “I couldn’t part with that,” she says.
García Márquez wasn’t a fashion icon, but neither did he underappreciate it. When it was announced in 1982 that he had won the Nobel Prize, one of the first things he said was that he hoped to attend the ceremony in emblematic Colombian attire. “I want to wear a guayabera,” he said at the time. “A tuxedo is the obligatory suit, but they allow Hindus to wear their national dress. I am willing to show that the guayabera is the national dress of the Caribbean and that I have the right to attend wearing one. As long as I don’t have to wear tails I can cope with the cold.” In the end he wore a Liqui liqui, the traditional suit of Los Llanos, the grassland plains that unite Colombia and Venezuela, in homage to his grandfather, a colonel who raised the young García Márquez and was closer to the writer than his own father. “His wartime Liqui liquis and his civilian colonel’s whites looked as though he was still living inside them,” García Márquez wrote of his grandfather’s clothes in his memoir Living to Tell the Tale.
The famous white linen suit he wore in 1982 is not on sale in Mexico City: it is a well-guarded jewel in the National Museum of Colombia. Neither are his famous ruanas – a poncho-style garment – which remain at his home there. But the display in Mexico City does include what his wife wore to the Nobel ceremony, a floor-length emerald green dress with black leaves of thick fabric. It is not for sale though: it forms part of an exhibition alongside dozens more dresses that Barcha kept for decades.
“It’s possible to trace all of the eras that Mercedes lived through,” says her granddaughter about the dresses and the tonal changes she saw in them. “They run from her most colorful dresses to her most sober jackets toward the end [of her life].” On display are dozens of long indigenous dresses Barcha collected in various parts of Mexico, as well as several traditional bags made by the Wayuu people of Colombia. By contrast, there are Louis Vuitton bags and dresses made by Italian fashion house Marina Rinaldi. “I think Mercedes was completely obsessed with Marina Rinaldi,” says García Elizondo.
The proceeds from the sale of Barcha’s dresses and García Márquez’s tweed jackets are not destined for the Gabriel García Márquez House of Literature but for the FISANIM Foundation, run by Mexican actress Ofelia Medina to tackle malnutrition among indigenous children in states such as Chiapas and Guerrero. “I was 17 when I first met Gabo,” Medina tells EL PAÍS at the private viewing. “He wrote the first draft plot of my first film, Patsy, Mi amor, sometime around 1967. At about the same time he finished One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was one of the first people who read that novel.” Medina remains close to the family and recalls when García Elizondo told her earlier this year about the donation that would be coming for her charity. “For me it was as if yellow butterflies were fluttering all around me,” she says.
There are not many yellow butterflies in the García Márquez closet, but those stains in the Nobel winner’s pockets remain, from the pens which he used half a century ago to draw them.