One of the best eras in fashion history, in my opinion, is the 1940s and 1950s. It showed such drastic changes in the fashion world for women, all thanks to the much respected designers of that time such as Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Jaques Fath, Pierre Balmain, and many others. Maybe the most known are Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, but for this post, I’d like to shed the highlight on Cristóbal Balenciaga. He was known for the revolutionary silhouettes and exquisite taste. So let’s take a few moments to find out exactly who he is!
Cristóbal Balenciaga Eisaguirre was born in 1895 in Guetaria, Spain. His mother, Martina Eizaguirre was a seamstress who worked for the Marquesa de Casa Torres, one of the most prominent women in his town, and other well-heeled families in the area. He would often sit next to her while she was working, which triggered his interest in fashion and developed his keen eye for elegance. That in my opinion was the main reason that the Marquesa de Casa Torres sent him to Madrid, when he was just 12 years old, to receive formal training in tailoring and work as an apprentice for many reputable tailoring establishments both in Madrid and San Sebastián, where he succeeded very quickly, gaining the position of head of ladies dressmaking.
In 1919, he opened his own house in San Sebastián under the name C. Balenciaga which soon changed to Balenciaga y Compañía after forming a partnership with two merchant sisters from San Sebastián to increase his capital, and then changed once more after the end of this partnership to Cristóbal Balenciaga. He gained much more success when Queen María Cristina and other ladies from the Spanish royal family became his clients. By the mid 1930s he had already expanded to open couture houses in Madrid and Barcelona.
Soon after, the Spanish civil war broke, forcing him to leave Spain, suspending activity in all three houses, and opening a new house in Paris under the name of BALENCIAGA, where he launched his first Haute Couture collection, to huge success. He was known as one of the few couturiers in fashion history who could use their own hands to design, cut, and sew to the extent that Coco Chanel said about him “He is the only true couturier among us.”
Cristóbal Balenciaga created new silhouettes after Christian Dior’s “New Look” going the complete opposite direction, broadening the shoulders and removing the emphasis on the waist, he was the first to introduce the barrel line dresses which had the shape of a barrel, adding volume around the waist and going slimmer around the hem, the semi-fitted suit is also a twist on the barrel shape which was a perfectly fitted suit at the front with excess volume at the back. He was the first to introduce the tunic, and the baby doll dress, which was free of any curves or emphasis with a puffy low waist skirt. Also, the Peacock tail dress referred to nowadays as the double length dress was invented by him, not to mention the Cracknyl fabric; a shiny fabric used for skiwear and raincoats. Last but not least, he was well known for his unique hats and the use of heavy beading, feathers and most of his designs were inspired by the Spanish regional dress.
In 1968, he designed the uniforms for Air France air hostesses and later that year announced that he will be retiring from the fashion world. He closed down all Balenciaga houses in Paris and Spain, but in 1972 he was asked to design the wedding dress for María Del Carmen the future Duchess of Cadiz, opening shop once again just for his final piece before he passed away on March 24 that same year.
He was called “The master” and “The king of haute couture” by his fellow designers and many of today’s biggest designers were trained by him, such as Hubert De Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges to mention a few.
14 years later after the death of Cristobal Balenciaga, in 1986, Jacques Bogart S.A. acquired the rights to Balenciaga and reopened it with a Ready-to-Wear line. The first head designer was Michel Goma, for 5 years, but was then replaced by Belgian designer Josephus Thimister, who began restoring it to a high status couture house. By 1997, Josephus Thimister was fired and replaced by Nicolas Ghesquière who was promoted from being the designer for the Japanese license to head designer, taking it to a new level of excellence in the fashion world.
Last year in November, Nicolas Ghesquière announced that he’ll be leaving the house of Balenciaga and it was revealed later that the new Creative Director for Balenciaga is the amazing Alexander Wang. Let’s see where the young and talented designer will take the 90+ year old fashion label.
I believe that knowing the success stories of other people inspires us, that’s why every once in a while I’ll be talking about a designer. If there’s someone you’re curious about, feel free to mention him/her and I’ll be sure to write about.