December 20, 2012

Cristóbal Balenciaga And The Revolution Of Fashion


In 1918, Cristóbal Balenciaga was opening his first boutique in San Sebastián, Spain, which would later expand, to include shops in Madrid and Barcelona. His clothes were worn by the Spanish Royal Family, but once the Spanish Civil War broke out, Balenciaga was forced to shud down his business.

In 1937, Balenciaga opened his own couture fashion house in Paris, on the famous Avenue George V. His success was immediate. That same year, the designer organised his first runway show, presenting a collection highly influenced by the Spanish Renaissance era. Not two years later, Balenciaga was featured in the pages of the press, such as Harper’s Bazaar magazine (editor Carmel Snow was among his first admirers), being regarded as a revolutionary of the fashion world. Among his most admired creations of this period are the ”square coat” (with sleeves cut from a single piece), and the pieces featuring black lace over bright pink fabric.

Cristobal Balenciaga, Harper's Bazaar, 1950

Cristobal Balenciaga, Harper’s Bazaar, 1950

After World War II, Balenciaga’s designs became even more popular. Situated at a completely opposite pole from Christian Dior’s New Look silhouette (which emphasized the body’s hourglass shape), Balenciaga’s creations stood out due to their fluidity. His manipulation of the waist in order to create a new silhouette which would better embrace the womanly figure is considered among the most notable contributions ever brought to the fashion world. During the 1950 and 60s, Balenciaga continued to play with the feminine silhouette, offering it various shapes: in 1951, he made the shoulders broad and removed the waistline. In 1955, he created the tunic dress, which would later become the chemise dress (1958), still a wardrobe staple today, while in 1953, he introduced the spherical balloon jacket, and in 1957, the baby doll dress, the cocoon coat, the balloon skirt and the sack dress. During the 1960s, Balenciaga pushed the boundaries when it came to fabrics as well, his preferences leaning towards heavy fabrics embellished with minute embroidery.

Evening dress, ca. 1959

Evening dress, ca. 1959

Balenciaga’s innovative creations attracted a select clientele, such as Queen Fabiola of Belgium, Pauline de Rothschild, Gloria Guinness, Mona von Bismarck and Jackie Kennedy, but also, a set of protégés, who would eventually make their mark as well on the fashion world, opening their own fashion houses: Oscar de la Renta (1949), André Courrèges (1950), Emanuel Ungaro (1958) and Hubert de Givenchy (1952).

Sketch in Chinese ink and watercolours

Sketch in Chinese ink and watercolours

Cristóbal Balenciaga’s innovative spirit made him break the rules, a fact which translated into him being banned from the Chamble Syndicale de la Haute Couture. However, even if his creations were never on the official list of haute couture, Balenciaga is considered to be one of the most valuable fashion designers of all time, revolutionising the fashion world and being reffered to by Christian Dior as ”a master of us all”.


After the death of the designer in 1972, the house remained dormant until 1986. Currently, the house of Balenciaga is owned by the Gucci Group ( PPR – Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) and starting with November 5th 2012, the new creative director is designer Alexander Wang, replacing Nicolas Ghesquière.

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