Cristobal Balenciaga is considered to be a real innovator in the fashion world; he is credited with dramatically altering women’s fashion during the 1940s and 1950s. If we look at some of his fifties dresses, you can clearly see that his garments are fluid, graceful and beautifully tailored. Balenciaga was unusual amongst the famous couturiers of that time, in that he was actually able to drape, cut and fit his own patterns. His extensive knowledge of technique and construction became well known throughout the fashion world.
Balenciaga came from a humble background; he was born in a fishing village in the Basque region of Spain in 1895. His mother greatly influenced him, as she was a dressmaker and he spent many days by her side learning her trade whilst growing up. His lucky break came when he was just 14 years old when his Mother's most illustrious client, the Marquesa de Casa, became his patron and sent him to San Sebastian to take up a tailoring apprenticeship with Casa Gomez and New England. This was the finest tailoring establishments in Spain at the time. His Patron was a proud supporter of his and could often be seen about town in his designs.
He did so well on his apprenticeship that just four years later, at the age of 18, he began full-time employment with a famous tailoring firm; he was promoted to head of Ladies Dressmaking just two years later. His success in Spain, led him to open his own boutique in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona, at the tender age of 22. He was so popular during this time that his designs were even worn by the Spanish royal family - who particularly favoured his floral vintage dress designs. The breakout of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, forced him to close down his Spanish businesses, and so he headed to Paris - the fashion capital of the world. In Paris, he joined the ranks of other established couturiers, such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, and he staged his first runway show in August 1937.
By 1939, Balenciaga was hailed as a revolutionising force in fashion. Many of his vintage dress designs were based on his unique Spanish heritage and many buyers and customers fought to get access to his collections. During World War Two, when fighting was in full force, many clients risked their lives to travel to Europe in order to get their hands on his fifties dresses, especially those that featured his unique colour combinations, such as this Lindy Bop Daria Midnight Poppy Swing Dress.
Lindy Bop Daria Midnight Poppy Swing Dress - £35
Throughout the 1960s, Balenciaga continued to experiment with silhouette and fabric became an important consideration for him. He loved bold materials, heavy cloth and ornate patterns, such as those found in the vintage Ophelia dress shown below.
Lindy Bop ‘Ophelia’ Beige Floral Vintage Dress - £25
Balenciaga eventually closed his salon in 1968, and died in his beloved Spain in 1972. His death marked the end of a very creative and artistic career that touched the lives of many. The House of Balenciaga remained dormant until 1986, where the rights to the name Balenciaga were acquired by Jacques Bogart S.A. in 1992, the hiring of the Dutch designer, Josephs Thimister, brought about the restoration of the name to the high fashion elite status it had previously enjoyed under Cristobal's reign. The brand continues to go strong today and is perhaps most famous for its motorcycle-inspired handbags and accessories.
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