Cristóbal Balenciaga

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Cristóbal Balenciaga
Cristobal Balenciaga.jpg
Cristóbal Balenciaga in 1950
Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre

(1895-01-21)21 January 1895
Getaria, Spain
Died23 March 1972(1972-03-23) (aged 77)
Resting placeGetaria cemetery[1]
Other namesBasque: Cristobal Balentziaga Eizagirre

Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre (pronounced [kɾisˈtoβal βalenˈθjaɣa ejθaˈɣire]; 21 January 1895 – 23 March 1972) was a Spanish fashion designer, and the founder of the Balenciaga fashion house. He had a reputation as a couturier of uncompromising standards and was referred to as "the master of us all" by Christian Dior and as "the only couturier in the truest sense of the word" by Coco Chanel, who continued, "The others are simply fashion designers". On the day of his death, in 1972, Women's Wear Daily ran the headline "The king is dead".

Since 2011 the purpose built Museo Balenciaga has exhibited examples of his work in his birth town Getaria. Many of the 1,200 pieces in the collection were supplied by his pupil Hubert de Givenchy and clients such as Grace Kelly.

Life and career[edit]

Balenciaga was born in Getaria, province of Gipuzkoa (Basque Country), on 21 January 1895.[2] His father was a simple fisherman who died when Cristobal was a boy, and his mother a seamstress. As a child Balenciaga often spent time with his mother as she worked.[2] At the age of twelve, he began work as the apprentice of a tailor.[3] When he was a teenager, the Marchioness de Casa Torres, the foremost noblewoman in his town, became his customer and patron.[2] She sent him to Madrid, where he was formally trained in tailoring.[2] Balenciaga is notable as one of the few couturiers in fashion history who could not only use his own hands to create, but pattern, cut, and sew the designs which symbolized the height of his artistry.[citation needed]

Balenciaga was successful during his early career as a designer in Spain. He opened a boutique in San Sebastián in 1919,[4] which expanded to include branches in Madrid and Barcelona.[2] 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.[2][3] He opened his Paris couture house on Avenue George V in August 1937.[2]

However, it was not until the post-war years that the full scale of the inventiveness of his highly original designs became evident. 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 1957. In 1959, his work culminated in the Empire line, with high-waisted dresses and coats cut like kimonos.[5]

In 1960 he made the wedding dress for Fabiola de Mora y Aragón when she married King Baudouin I of Belgium. The Queen later donated her wedding dress to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation.[6]

He created many designs for socialite Aline Griffith, diplomat Margarita Salaverría Galárraga, and designer Meye Allende de Maier, considering them his muses.[7][8]

Black taffeta cocktail dress designed by Balenciaga, 1951[9]

He taught fashion design classes, inspiring other designers including Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges, Emanuel Ungaro, Mila Schön and Hubert de Givenchy.[2]

His often spare, sculptural creations were considered masterworks of haute couture in the 1950s and 1960s.

Balenciaga closed his house in 1968 at the age of 74 after working in Paris for 30 years. He decided to retire and closed his fashion houses in Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, one after the other.[3] Balenciaga died on 23 March 1972 in Xàbia, Spain.[10]

Today the Balenciaga fashion house continues under the direction of Demna Gvasalia and under the ownership of the Kering.[11]


During the 1950s designers like Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, and Coco Chanel, emerged, creating pieces very representative to their fashion houses and to their own styles. An important protagonist for this period was Cristobal Balenciaga. This Spanish fashion designer was known as "The King of Fashion" and was one of the great masterminds of the period. Balenciaga was born and raised in Spain, where he worked for the Spanish royalty, but because of the Spanish Civil War he moved to Paris where he became the King of Fashion.[12]

The most eye-catching designer of this period was Balenciaga because of his structural designs, which had never before been seen in the fashion world. He was a master of tailoring, and he was able to translate his illustrations from paper to real life. His advanced tailoring skills gave him an advantage over designers all over the world, making him a major target for customers.[13] "He reshaped women's silhouette in the 1950s, so that clothes we think as typical of that decade are mostly dilutions of his work." (Irvine, 2013)[14] Compared to some work like the New Look from Christian Dior, which featured full skirts and a tiny waist,[15] Balenciaga changed these to look like the one-seam Yoki coat, or to voluminous looks. These looks caused customers to travel from all over the world for his outfits.

Personal life[edit]

Balenciaga was gay,[16] although he kept his sexuality private throughout his life.[17] The love of his life and his long time partner was Franco-Polish millionaire Władzio Jaworowski d’Attainville, who had helped fund setting him up. When d'Attainville died in 1948, Balenciaga was so broken he considered closing the business.[18] His next collection after d'Attainville's death was designed entirely in black to mourn his loss.[19]


On 24 March 2011, San Francisco's M. H. de Young Museum celebrated the opening of "Balenciaga and Spain", a 120-piece fashion retrospective of his career. "You can't even measure it", said Rodarte designer Laura Mulleavy, of Balenciaga's influence. The $2,500-a-ticket fund-raiser for the museum drew 350 guests, including Marissa Mayer, Jamie Tisch, Gwyneth Paltrow, Orlando Bloom, Balthazar Getty, Maggie Rizer, Connie Nielsen, Maria Bello and Mia Wasikowska.[20]

On 7 June 2011, the Balenciaga Museum was inaugurated in his hometown of Getaria by Queen Sofía of Spain and with the presence of Hubert de Givenchy, honorific president of the Balenciaga Foundation.[21] The museum has a collection of more than 1,200 pieces designed by Balenciaga, some of them donations by disciples, like Givenchy, or clients, like Queen Fabiola of Belgium and the heirs of Grace Kelly.[22]

His most famous clients were Mona von Bismarck, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy.

From October 2018 to January 2019, Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum presented Balenciaga in Black, with over one hundred black garments and accessories from the collections of the Palais Galliera and Balenciaga Archives in Paris.


  1. ^ Hispano americano, Volume 60, Issues 1539-1552, Tiempo, 1971, pg 72
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Charleston, Beth Duncuff (October 2004). "Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972)". Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2007-06-06.
  3. ^ a b c "Cristóbal Balenciaga". Fashion, Jewellery & Accessories. Victoria and Albert Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-11-23. Retrieved 2007-06-06.
  4. ^ Breward, Christopher (2003), Fashion, Oxford History of Art, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 81, ISBN 978-0-19-284030-1
  5. ^ "Cristóbal Balenciaga | Spanish designer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-07-25.
  6. ^ NOVIAS – Wedding dress in ivory satin and white mink – 1960 – The Queen donated her wedding dress to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation.
  7. ^ Espinosa de los Monteros, Patricia (3 October 2006). "Balenciaga, fuente de inspiración" [Balenciaga, Source of Inspiration]. El Diario Vasco (in Spanish). San Sebastián. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  8. ^ Espinosa de los Monteros, Patricia (16 July 2011). "Las nietas de las damas de la alta sociedad homenajean a Balenciaga" [The Granddaughters of the Ladies of High Society Pay Homage to Balenciaga]. ABC (in Spanish). Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  9. ^ Weijkamp, Birthe (26 February 2015). "Een 'echt' Parijs model?" (in Dutch). ModeMuze. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  10. ^ Settle, Alison; Observer, former fashion editor of The (2016-03-17). "Balenciaga dies: fashion archive, 20 March 1972". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  11. ^ Cole, Shaun (2002), "Fashion",, archived from the original on 2015-02-26
  12. ^ Schillinger, L (2013). Opening up the couturier Cristobal Balenciaga. Paris: International Herald Tribune.
  13. ^ Miller, L.E. (2007). Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972): The couturiers' couturier (2nd rev.ed.). New York; London: V&A Publications.
  14. ^ "Couture's divine mystery". Daily Telegraph. London. 2013.
  15. ^ Müller, F., Bongrand, C., & Pushkina. (2011). Inspiration dior. New York: Abrams Publications.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Haggerty, George (2013-11-05). Encyclopedia of Gay Histories and Cultures. Routledge. ISBN 9781135585068.
  17. ^ Kaiser, Susan B. (2013-08-01). Fashion and Cultural Studies. A&C Black. ISBN 9780857854315.
  18. ^ Blume, Mary The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
  19. ^ "Balenciaga and Spain by Hamish Bowles, Vogue - YouTube". Retrieved 2021-01-02.
  20. ^ WWD.COM (25 March 2011). "A Spanish Night for Balenciaga in San Francisco". Women's Wear Daily. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  21. ^ "375 invitados arropan a la Reina Sofía en la inauguración del Museo Balenciaga" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 7 June 2011. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  22. ^ "Abre el museo Balenciaga, el primero dedicado a un modisto" (in Spanish). Reuters. 7 June 2011. Retrieved 5 August 2013.

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