100 Years Balenciaga

The Victoria & Albert museum is showing the oeuvre of the Spanish-French fashion designer

Balenciaga was regarded as the "King of Fashion". He opened his first fashion house in San Sebastian 100 years ago and his Paris fashion house 80 years ago.

Model wearing Balenciaga Orange coat as I.Magnin buyers inspect a dinner outfit in the background. Paris, 1954

Model wearing Balenciaga Orange coat as I.Magnin buyers inspect a dinner outfit in the background. Paris, 1954

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London is showing an exhibition on the oeuvre of Spanish-French fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972), the first such exhibtion in the UK (until 18 February 2018).

The occasion is the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga's first fashion house in San Sebastian and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his fashion house in Paris, which still operates (photo below).

Cristóbal Balenciaga at work Paris 1968.

Cristóbal Balenciaga at work Paris 1968.

Balenciaga's mother was a seamstress in Spain's Basque land and as a child he watched her working. At the age of 12, he started as an apprentice for a tailor and thereafter made clothes for the wealthy in his town.

One of them, Marchioness de Casa Torres, sent him to Madrid to get a formal education as a tailor. As a consequence, Balenciaga became one of very few designers who could not only design a dress but cut and tailor it as well.

Alberta Tiburzi in Envelope dress by **Cristóbal Balenciaga

Alberta Tiburzi in Envelope dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga

This made it possible to him to explore totally new styles, such as the voluminous dresses for which he became known. Examples are the complex-built Envelope dress (photo above) and the Orange dress (title photo).

The Spanish Civil War forced Balenciaga to close his fashion business in Spain. He moved to Paris and opened a new fashion house on Avenue George V in 1937.

Elise Daniels with street performers. Suit by Balenciaga. Le Marais. Paris, 1948.

Elise Daniels with street performers. Suit by Balenciaga. Le Marais. Paris, 1948.

It is in Paris that his most influential voluminous designs were created, which influenced many fashion designers, including Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Coco Chanel (see video) Balenciaga was the undisputed King of Fashion.

His most important disciple is his former assistant Hubert de Givenchy (90).

Balenciaga closed his fashion house in 1968. It was resurrected in 1986 when Groupe Bogart, a French family business dealing with perfumes, acquired the rights to the Balenciaga name.

Evening dress Silk taffeta, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paris 1955

Evening dress Silk taffeta, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paris 1955

Today, Balenciaga is owned by luxury group Kering and its chief designer is Georgian Demna Gvasalia, who succeeded Alexander Wang in 2016. Before Wang, Nicolas Ghesquière had been the chief designer for 15 years.

In 2011 a Balenciaga Museum was opened in Cristóbal Balenciaga's hometown of Getaria. Its collection counts 1200 dresses designed by Balenciaga which were donated by the Balenciaga Foundation, headed by Hubert de Givenchy as well as many of Balenciaga's prominent clients.