Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The life and times of Cristobal Balenciaga

“Balenciaga achieved what is considered to be his most important contribution to the world of fashion: a new silhouette for women.”

Born on the 21st of January 1895, in a town known as Guetaria in Spain, Cristóbal Balenciaga, a Spanish Fashion Designer went on and founded the historical fashion house known simply as Balenciaga. He was said to be known as a couturier of categorical standards and developed the reputation of being the utmost finest in his craft. He was respected by many leading fashion designers for his knowledge and effortless perfectionism. Throughout the mid twentieth century, Cristobal radically contributed in the change of the women’s silhouette, moving it away from the previous and dominant Christian Dior “New Look”.

At a very early age, Balenciaga became notably skilled at his trade by learning from his mother, Martina Eizaguirre Embil, who was an extraordinary seamstress. He grew up within a very privileged and fortunate household and through his parents he was able to meet many influential individuals who indirectly assisted him on his path to inevitable success. He was designing and constructing exceptionally complicated work by twelve years old and at the tender age of fourteen, Balenciaga, retained his very first client, Marquesa de Casa Torres, the most influential and prominent women in his town. From then on his success and career grew to astonishing heights and in 1914, Cristobal opened his first Boutique in San Sebastián, Spain. Along with Martina; the Spanish royal family and various different aristocrats also favoured and wore his impeccable creations, allowing for his work to become a lot more publicly recognized.

The household name became progressively successful over the next two decades, but due to the Spanish Civil war, Balenciaga was forced to close down his boutique and move to Paris, the most accredited fashion capital of the world. Due to his previous accomplishments and connections in his hometown, Cristobal found success very quickly and within a year already went on to open up his Couture Fashion House in 1937.

Cristobal Balenciaga’s very first fashion show took place in 1937 on Avenue George V Atelier, pioneering a fine-looking collection compromising of designs which were profoundly inspired by the Spanish Renaissance. Cristobal wanted to pay tribute to his native country and all who had taught him and indirectly assisted him in becoming tremendously successful in his venture. For this first couture runway show he drew particular inspiration from the famous painter, Diego Velázquez was and featured his famous Infanta gown inspired by the costumes of young Spanish princesses. This first show was the preceding to how Balenciaga carried out his life’s work by interpretation through various different historical styles. From then on Balenciaga became a household name throughout the world, and the French named him to be a revolutionary and innovatory.

During WWII many would travel abroad and on some occasions would risk their lives just to catch a glimpse of the highly sought after master pieces. One particular creation was Balenciaga’s square coat which was cut with a one piece sleeve and a single yoke and was made in either a combination of black and brown or black lace over a bright pink fabric.

Along with this jacket Cristobal created many other designs such as the balloon jacket, the chemise dress, the cocoon skirt, the balloon skirt and the sack dress. These designs consisted of fluidity and grace and his approach to fashion was a lot more linear and streamlined. This was tremendously different from the previous designs of Christian Dior, and the ever so popular “New Look” which promoted a more curvy and hourglass shape to fashion. Balenciaga made this change by dropping the waistline and widening the shoulders and ultimately went on to completely alter the silhouette of women’s clothing from then onwards. He later then went on to create the kimono and the empire line, which has had such an overwhelming impact on fashion design, and most designers still incorporate some of Balenciaga’s inventions and  creations in their collections today.

Amongst Cristobal’s design ability, he also had the talent in manipulating fabric in ways which no previous designer had ever come to envisage. He had the ability to drape, cut and fit fabric without ever having to produce an original pattern. This was a quality and talent which was strongly admired and sought after by famous designers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, who gained a new found respect for the Spanish designer. Cristobal appreciated the more difficult fabrics and enjoyed working with heavier textiles and ornately embroidered fabrics and enjoyed unique and innovative challenges. 

These designs however were a lot more lavish and had a much larger price tag, allowing them only to be purchased and worn by the much more affluent civilians of the time, such as Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.

In the summer of 1968, Cristobal made the decision to close down his fashion house and showcased his final collection which comprised of his love for fabric and textiles in innovative original designs. His final works encompassed intensely sculptural fantasies that allowed one to think seriously about the real people who inhabited them. The creations paid close attention to the way fabric was manipulated and each design told a story of its own. His final collection was also said to be partially inspired by the late Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.

 Till next time...

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