A Brief History of Balenciaga
The luxury fashion house of Balenciaga has had several reincarnations since its visionary founder retired from active work life some 50 years ago. Balenciaga was a man who gave the world fashion itself, and he designed everything from trench coats to stockings. Known for the most luxurious fabrics to exacting colour blends, Cristobal Balenciaga saw the future of fashion in every design he crafted.
The history of Balenciaga is traced back to its meagre beginnings. Before being lauded as among the most influential designers of the 20th century, Cristobal Balenciaga grew up in a tiny village in Gipuzkoa, Spain. His mother was a widow and worked as a seamstress to feed her son. Without formal training, the Spanish designer launched his first small boutique in 1919 in nearby San Sebastian. Soon, he became famous and could invest in stores in Barcelona and Madrid. The Spanish royal family and the aristocracy wore his designs. During the Spanish Civil War, his boutiques shut, but in 1937, a resilient Balenciaga opened the House of Balenciaga in Paris.
The Balenciaga Hand
Ambidextrous Cristobal Balenciaga was in the habit of draping his couture creations directly on a mannequin. He did this in an effort to promote clean lines and cuts of the fabric as they fell smoothly over a human form. The designer was content to be in the background, staying away from the limelight as much as possible. He would sneak into his studio a simple tailor at heart while his seasonal designs were on show, only to begin work on the next season. Not only a designer but an influencer and innovator in the world of couture, his high-fashion silhouettes were copied blatantly. His dresses, broad-shouldered with full volume, caught the eye of many counterparts who incorporated his features in their own lines.
More Sculptor, Less Designer
The work of Balenciaga, described as equaling sculpture rather than mere dress designing, saw each design created as an objet d’art in its allure, style and precision. Thus, the history of Balenciaga is as much about a true artist as that of a designer. Given his major success, despite interruptions, the maven shut his Paris house in 1968. He passed away four years later, at the age of 77. For almost two decades, the reputed and adored House of Balenciaga remained closed. Nonetheless, in rapid succession, many designers were employed to revive the brand, taking it into the 21st century. Artistic directors like Michael Goma, Josephus Thimister, Nicolas Ghesquiere, Alexander Wang, and Demna Gvasalia (present director) have added to Balenciaga’s phenomenon.