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Year after year, a dedicated group of women and dressmakers devote their time to creating the exquisite gowns showcased at the Buccaneer Day Coronation. Los Doñas de la Corte, that dedicated group of ladies, is an organization that sponsors and engineers the coronation pageant that has been part of the Buccaneer Days Celebration since 1954. This small group devotes their time and expertise every year to each aspect that goes into the four day Coronation celebration. The Buccaneer Coronation features a king, queen, princess, and several duchesses, and is representative of a royal court during the rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Coronation honors Alonso De Pindea, a 16th century explorer who discovered Corpus Christi Bay.
Jettie Powers, Wardrobe Chair for this year’s Coronation, is also the artist of all twenty-four dresses that will be unveiled May 4th at the American Bank Center Selena Auditorium. The Wardrobe Chair creates the theme, the vision of the court, conducts research, oversees everything dress related, and hires and works with the artist during the year it takes to finish the designs. While the Wardrobe Chair does not usually design the dresses, Powers took it upon herself to wear that crown as well. “It’s just always been a dream of mine to be able to make them,” Powers says of the dresses.
Powers’ first introduction to the beautiful hand-tailored gowns worn by the Coronation duchesses was while serving as a page in a San Antonio Fiesta Coronation. “The first time that I saw the dresses or got to touch them, I was five,” Powers says. She went on to be a duchess, like her mother before her, and her daughter continued the family tradition.
This year’s theme is The Court of Exquisite Brilliance. Powers considered several different themes, but ultimately settled on jewelry as, “The history of jewelry and the journey through it was just so compelling to me,” she explains. She chose exquisite for the exquisite jewelry and girls who will participate in the pageant. Brilliance was chosen for the brilliance of the mind, the artist, the piece of jewelry, for the shine, and for the girls.
Powers read and extensively studied the history of jewelry pieces that inspired her designs and viewed multiple pictures of the jewelry before she began. A rough sketch would start with a triangle the exact size of the train to properly tailor it to the correct length. A two-scale drawing came next, followed by a colored printout to drawing. “I would go home from work and draw and color every night,” Powers explains.
A year and a half was spent drawing her creations, with the past year dedicated to bringing her designs off the pages. “It has been a wonderful journey. Jewelry is just a beautiful, emotional art form. We use it to commemorate, to love, to mourn, to celebrate, and it’s just important to me in a lot of ways,” explains Powers.
The completed designs were divided equally among four dressmakers who have been with the Coronation for years. The dressmakers are presented with a folder on each dress, allowing them to see the inspiration and discuss the history behind each creation. Georgette Afram and Andrea Afram, Gloria Bechara and Samia Bechara-Palfreyman, Lucy Salinas and Monica Castillo, and Andres Contreras then spend a year constructing the dresses.
While each dress is unique and completion time varies, a single dress can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 months to finish. “Their detail is exquisite,” remarks Powers of the dressmakers. For every bead a dressmaker adds to a dress, they sew a tiny bead on top to anchor it to the fabric. “They are remarkably talented, remarkably artistic,” Powers gushes.
The dresses and their designs are kept from the public until they are unveiled the night of the Coronation. The Coronation is eloquently planned, with music choreographed and lighting specifically chosen for each dress.
Powers has come full circle from her first introduction to a Coronation dress to now having designed every gown for this year’s court. Of jewelry as her inspiration, Powers says, “It’s a wonderful history lesson with a beautiful picture.”