Perhaps even those who are not connected to fashion know about this brand name. Today, when hearing Balenciaga, many people associate the name with sneakers, oversized sweatshirts, and other trendy attributes of the modern wardrobe. One might get the impression that this is a new brand that just appeared in our lives relatively recently and got its niche right away. However, this is not true. The founder of this fashion house, Cristóbal Balenciaga, was born in the 19th century and he was considered one of the main designers who were admired by Christian Dior and Coco Chanel.

We at Enlighten decided to carefully study the story of this brand which has not only managed to resurrect itself, but that has also become one of the most popular and discussable brands in the world today.

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  • Cristóbal Balenciaga was born in Spain on January 21, 1895, precisely 10 years before the birth of Christian Dior. Thus, these 2 geniuses of the fashion world were born on the same day but with a 10-year difference.
  • He grew up in a small city called Getaria. His father was a simple fisherman, his mother was a seamstress. When Cristóbal was still a child, his father passed away and his family faced difficult times. The future designer would spend a lot of time with his mother and by doing so he learned how to sew at an early age. At 12, Balenciaga started to work as an apprentice for a tailor.
  • When he was a teenager, one of the most powerful women of the city, the Marchioness de Casa Torres, became his customer and patron. She sent the young man to Madrid where he got a formal education in tailoring. This meant that Balenciaga was one of the few couturiers in the fashion world who could not only design clothes but also make patterns, sew, etc.

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  • Cristóbal quickly became successful in Spain. He opened his own boutique in 1919 and the members of the Spanish royal family were present among his clients. However, after the civil war, he had to move to Paris. Soon after that, he opened his Parisian haute couture house.
  • His first collection, inspired by the Renaissance in Spain, immediately became successful in France. By the way, it was he who introduced the basque detail on a skirt at the waistline, which is still used today. Though a basque is a very traditional Spanish detail, it was Cristóbal who adjusted it to fit the wardrobe of the fashionistas of those times.
  • The designer’s talent unfolded completely in the ’50s. This was the time of his creative breakthroughs and victories. Later this period will end up being called “Balenciaga’s revolution.” In 1947, Christian Dior introduced the “new look” silhouette to fashion by creating the image of a “perfect woman” with a thin waist, elegant hips, and fragile shoulders. However, the Spanish designer decided to break this trend and went his own way.

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  • By 1951, Cristóbal Balenciaga had drastically changed a woman’s silhouette. He removed the waistline in his dresses and widened the shoulder line. With that being said, he created a new silhouette for women, making it more comfortable and free, but it still retained elements of grace and elegance. In 1955, he developed the tunic dress which became a wildly popular wardrobe item, and later evolved into a chemise dress. What’s more, experts called the manipulation of the waistline one of Balenciaga’s greatest contributions to the development of fashion.
  • In 1957, the designer had a conflict with the press. The thing is, he showed his collection to the fashion press one day before the clothing retail delivery date, not 4 weeks prior as the rules among designers of that time had declared. By doing this, Cristóbal wanted to avoid having anyone copy his designs. Journalists resented this decision but Balenciaga was adamant and followed this rule for the next 10 years. Balenciaga was also supported by his protégé, Hubert de Givenchy.

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  • In the late 1950s, Balenciaga started experimenting with fabrics and new materials. He created a fabric called gazar in collaboration with the Swiss fabric house Abraham. It’s a special type of dense silk that can perfectly keep its shape. It was gazar that allowed the designer to create unique silhouettes for his dresses, which were more like sculptures.
  • During that period, the designer’s models were starting to be called “monsters.” All because the couturier instructed them to never smile, to never look anyone in the eyes, and to just simply glance over the heads of clients with a haughty expression on their faces.
  • Balenciaga was highly appreciated, even by his competitors. For example, Dior called him “the master of us all,” while Coco Chanel would say that he was “the only couturier in the truest sense of the word. The others are simply fashion designers.” Though, as a rule, she wasn’t nice to her contemporaries.