Balenciaga is a fashion house founded by
Cristóbal Balenciaga, a Spanish designer, born in
the Basque Country. He introduced couture shapes to
the women's world 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.
Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his first boutique in
San Sebastián, 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 Ghesquière.
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
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 creations—including 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 Bismarck—were
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.
Cristóbal 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
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. Ghesquière'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 wore 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
Bejing, 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.