Every September, the fashion world narrows its sultry gaze to the shimmering lights of Europe, smoky eyes transfixed as flawless forms glide across runways that stir the imagination with the type of magic that only a fashion show can bring. Places like Paris, London and Milan attract a veritable who’s who list of luminaries like bees to a flower.

It’s actually a shame, because they miss out on hidden gems that run concurrently to the more “name brand” weeks. Madrid Fashion Week is one of those gems.

The Spanish capital was positively sizzling as some of the top designers from the Iberian Peninsula — and even South America — showcased their spring/summer 2014 collection in the biannual fashion fiesta.

A total of 44 designers presented, along with 20 emerging designers gaining some much-needed exposure to what can often be a rather ruthless fashion press (disclaimer: this writer does not shirk blame for the occasional harsh word or three). Things got off to a bang September 13, when Roberto Torretta opened with spectacular bombast. Solid-color prints and spotlessly clean lines defined the conservative separates shown in 30 different looks which, though unmistakably possessed of a fast-fashion feel, worked just fine. Not every show is couture, after all.

Barely an hour and a half later Ailanto was up, entertaining the audience with a fun and flirty show that was the rough equivalent of The Cat in the Hat meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with a bit of Spanish flair thrown in for good measure. Orange sherbet, candy pinks and aquamarine hues dominated, accented by bold stripes and geometric shapes that gave the various separates just the pop they needed. The only knock was the hair and makeup of the models was a bit bland, lending the models to look a bit out-of-sorts as they walked. A model should wear the clothes — not the other way around. Overall, it was an appropriate second act to heat up the week.

Things continued strongly throughout the next couple days thanks to young Spanish designer Daniel Rabaneda and his “Marte” (Mars) collection — featuring relaxed dresses with a minimalist look — and Roberto Etxeberria’s “Gernika,” a menswear collection inspired by classic English tailors and the Spanish countryside and featuring more black than the Rolling Stones’ wardrobe. The poncho-like garments had a certain Dracula-esque look to them, but somehow seemed to work within the context of a European show; it would likely never have worked at a more mainstream venue like New York.

But things really kicked into high gear the night of the 15th, when at 7 p.m. Maya Hansen presented her “Pangea” collection, using rigid materials to give shape to the body for an out-of-this-world effect — literally. Jane Jetson meets Lady Gaga meets Louise Brooks was among the first things that came to viewers’ minds in a stunning show that practically brought the house down with its sheer level of daring. Rorschach Test-style prints that capture an onlooker’s gaze and refuse to relinquish it, puffed sleeves boasting a wicked couture flavor, dresses with enough ruffles to hide an entire army, and models with fierce bob cuts in all colors of the rainbow (sometimes all at once, and in stunning gradients to boot) with frosted puts got pulses racing for the span of 20 looks. It was a fashion fete that made one all but forget that Madrid is miles away from Spain’s famous beaches, or even that humans don’t yet live on Mars.

Not all designers during the week hailed from the land of Don Quixote and the flamenco, however. Peruvian couturiers Meche Correa, Sitka Semsch, and Jessica Butrich represented their country as part of a special show meant to highlight the vibrant fashion culture of the South American nation, and they delivered solid collections that teased the force Peru is quickly becoming in the fashion world.

Correa’s collection used typical Andean textile patterns and rich colors in voluminous skirts and tailored tops that gave the collection a 1947 Dior “New Look” feel, offering a twist on what traditional “Peruvian” looks are. Semsch’s collection also offered a modern twist on traditional styles, using earth tones and thick knits combined with fluid chiffon and white lace to innovate. Butrich, the youngest of the design trio, showed a youthful collection that included retro bikinis and crop-tops covered in peppy graphic floral and fruit prints — a bit on the fast fashion side, but individualistic enough not to feel too “cookie cutter-esque.”

Steamy runways shows, hungry designers and plentiful of press coverage, but not the suffocation one might feel elsewhere; innovation and inspiration — Madrid Fashion Week is all that, with the added boon of tapas as hors d’oeuvres, sultry Spanish wine, and staggering sunsets. Ah, Spain.

Madrid Fashion Week: Friday, September 13

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Madrid Fashion Week: Saturday, September 14

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Madrid Fashion Week: Sunday, September 15

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Madrid Fashion Week: Monday, September 16

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Madrid Fashion Week: Tuesday, September 17

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Backstage at Madrid Fashion Week

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Featured image: A model walks the runway at the Maya Hansen show during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Madrid Spring/Summer 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Photo Courtesy of: Getty Images.