Balenciaga is a fashion house founded by Cristbal Balenciaga, a Spanish designer, born in the Basque Country. He had a reputation as a couturier of uncompromising standards and was referred to as “the master of us all” by Christian Dior. His bubble skirts and odd, feminine, yet ultra-modern shapes were trademarks of the house. The house of Balenciaga is now owned by the French multinational company PPR.
elegant braceletsCristbal Balenciaga opened his first boutique in San Sebastin, Spain, in 1914, which expanded to include branches in Madrid and Barcelona. The Spanish royal family and the aristocracy wore his designs, but when the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores, Balenciaga moved to Paris.
The designer house is now run by Nicolas Ghesquire.
Balenciaga opened his Paris couture house on Avenue George V in August 1937, and his first runway show featured designs heavily influenced by the Spanish Renaissance. Balenciaga’s success in Paris was nearly immediate. Within two years, the French press lauded him as a revolutionary, and his designs were highly sought-after. Carmel Snow, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar was an early champion of his designs.
Customers risked their safety to travel to Europe during World War II to see Balenciaga’s clothing. During this period, he was noted for his “square coat,” with sleeves cut in a single piece with the yoke, and for his designs with black (or black and brown) lace over bright pink fabric.
However, it was not until the post-war years that the full scale of the inventiveness of this highly original designer became evident. His lines became more linear and sleek, diverging from the hourglass shape popularized by Christian Dior’s New Look. The fluidity of his silhouettes enabled him to manipulate the relationship between his clothing and women’s bodies. In 1951, he totally transformed the silhouette, broadening the shoulders and removing the waist. In 1955, he designed the tunic dress, which later developed into the chemise dress of 1958. Other contributions in the postwar era included the spherical balloon jacket (1953), the high-waisted baby doll dress (1957), the cocoon coat (1957), the balloon skirt (1957), and the sack dress (1957). In 1959, his work culminated in the Empire line, with high-waisted dresses and coats cut like kimonos. His manipulation of the waist, in particular, contributed to “what is considered to be his most important contribution to the world of fashion: a new silhouette for women.”
In the 1960s, Balenciaga was an innovator in his use of fabrics: he tended toward heavy fabrics, intricate embroidery, and bold materials. His trademarks included “collars that stood away from the collarbone to give a swanlike appearance” and shortened “bracelet” sleeves. His often spare, sculptural creationsncluding funnel-shape gowns of stiff duchess satin worn to acclaim by clients such as Pauline de Rothschild, Bunny Mellon, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness and Mona von Bismarckere considered masterworks of haute couture in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960 he designed the wedding dress for Queen Fabiola of Belgium made of ivory duchess satin trimmed with white mink at the collar and the hips. Jackie Kennedy famously upset John F. Kennedy for buying Balenciaga’s expensive creations while he was President because he feared that the American public might think the purchases too lavish. Her haute couture bills were eventually discreetly paid by her father-in-law, Joseph Kennedy.
Cristbal Balenciaga left the house in 1968.
Balenciaga is now owned by the Gucci Group (part of PPR), and its womenswear and menswear is headed by Nicolas Ghesquire.
There was some conflict within the house of Balenciaga on Nicolas Ghesquiere’s designs. The Gucci group said that if Balenciaga didn’t become profitable within the year 2007, they would replace him. Ghesquire’s F/W 2005 line showed that the house was not only profitable, but also attracted a number of celebrity customers including editor-in-chief at Vogue, Anna Wintour.
The house of Balenciaga designed the dresses worn by Jennifer Connelly and Nicole Kidman to the 2006 Academy Awards, as well as the wedding gown Kidman wore for her recent marriage to Keith Urban. Kylie Minogue has also worn a Balenciaga dress for her “Slow” music video and for her concert tour.
Today the brand is also famous for its line of motorcycle-inspired handbags, especially the famous “Lariat”. Balenciaga currently owns only three boutiques in the United States their U.S. headquarters in New York on W 22nd St., Honolulu, and Los Angeles. A Boston and Orange County, CA boutique are planned to open in the coming months.
Balenciaga’s Fall/Winter 2007 show has wowed Editor in chief of Teen Vogue Amy Astley, so much that a spread in Teen Vogue named “Global Studies”, shot in Beijing, was influenced by the recent line, including skinny jodphers, tight, fitted blazers, beaded embellished scarves and other multiculti mixes.
Balenciaga is also very well known for creating avant-garde structural pieces, being on the edge of fashion and in the future of ready to wear.