Designer

DESIGNER FILE: CRISTOBAL BALENCIAGA

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If I had to choose an era to travel back to I would hastily reply the beginning of the 20th century, when the couture fashion was in the spotlight and its creators were praised as kings and queens. Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain are a few of the names which were building empires in the fashion world. But one name strikes to mind: Cristobal Balenciaga.

The Spanish heritage has given us many powerful names, plenty of inspiration and vast amounts of dreamy trends and collections. But what Balenciaga did was to explore the haute couture concept and take it to the next level.

Cristobal Balenciaga was born in Getaria, a fishing town in the province of Basque in 1895. His talent came from his mother who was a seamstress and from spending most days in her presence while helping her out. At the age of 12, Cristobal became what today would be called an intern for a local tailor. Soon enough his exceptional work led to having the Marchioness of Casa Torres as his client and this was going to be his big break.

With her help, the young designer was sent to Milan where his talent, his ability to use his own hands to design, cut and sew the models were developed through professional training. He then climbed the ladder of success and opened his very first few boutiques in Madrid, Barcelona and a fashion seaside resort in San Sebastian. His designs were outstanding and preferred by the royals family and the most fashionable members of the aristocracy. Balenciaga worked flawlessly on his couture pieces and paid great attention to detail, textures and fabrics.

When the war broke Cristobal had to move to Paris, a safe zone for him and his fashion. There he tied friendships with Coco, Elsa Schiaparelli and many others. The environment was appropriate and his name grew even more. Taking inspiration from his Spanish roots, the designer had his first runway show at his George Avenue V atelier and displayed a collection themed Spanish Renaissance. A true artist, he always introduced historical elements into his pieces and kept the feel of sophistication.

Although his designs were everywhere, he kept his private life away from the public eye. He was homosexual, but never really declared his sexuality open. When the love of life and business partner Vladzio Zawrowoski d’Attainville died in 1948 Balenciaga was heartbroken and even considered closing down his business.

He was successful from his early years, but he gained the respect and fame in the post-war years when the creative process exceeded all expectations and innovative concepts were launched. Some of his signature items mention the tunic dress, the ornamented ‘jacket of light’ which was worn by toreadors and the square coat. He celebrated the woman by reshaping her silhouette, broadening the shoulder and the waist.

The 1950s and 1960s proclaimed him as The King of Fashion. During his reign, he taught designers like Oscar de la Renta, Emanuel Ungaro, Mila Schon and Hubert de Givenchy.
Cristobal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968 at the age of 74. His creations though are still alive through memoirs, exhibitions and over 2000 couture pieces designed by the master itself.

Words by Cristiana Frunza

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