The luxury fashion house has had many reincarnations since its visionary designer retired 50 years ago.
“Balenciaga gave the world fashion. He was the beginning of everything, everything that is news – forever,” said legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. Listing everything from raincoats to black stockings, plus the most luxurious fabrics and colour combinations, Vreeland credited designer Cristóbal Balenciaga for creating the future of fashion.
Before he was lauded as one of the greatest designers of the 20th century, Balenciaga grew up in a small village in the Gipuzkoa region of Spain, with his widowed mother who worked as a seamstress to get by. With no formal training, the Basque designer opened his first boutique in nearby San Sebastián in 1919, followed by stores in Madrid and Barcelona. The outlets, called Eisa after his mother’s maiden name Eisaguirre, were forced to close during the Spanish Civil War, but the resilient creative began again in Paris – officially opening the house of Balenciaga in 1937.
Ambidextrous, the designer would drape his couture concoctions directly over a mannequin, obsessively trying to perfect the clean lines and cuts of the fabric with equal skill in each hand. Although he avoided the limelight – it’s said he’d sneak into his study when collections were being presented in the salon to start work on the next – the master of tailoring began to make a name for himself as an innovator in women’s fashion. Focusing on broader shoulders and new volumes, he developed a luxurious silhouette, often making the detailed backs of garments the star of his shows.
His work was described as equal to sculpture, architecture and objet d’art in its precision and allure. Despite all this, the maven closed his Paris maison in 1968, before passing away four years later aged 77. The fashion house remained silent for almost two decades, before a new wave of designers were employed, in quick succession, to transport the brand into the 21st century.
FQ charts the history of Balenciaga designers, a moments, below: