The Balenciaga fashion house is one of the founding fathers of modern luxury fashion. Created almost 100 years ago, in 1919, by Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, in the past century the brand has often set the bar for women’s high fashion.
The son of a seamstress, Balenciaga initially opened three boutiques across Spain, and his designs adorned the Spanish royal family and aristocracy. Then, the Spanish Civil War forced him to close shop, yet it turned out to be strange stroke of luck. He moved to Paris, where he opened a couture house and took part in his first runway show.
Success came quickly in Paris. He was hailed as a “fashion revolutionary” and the “architect of haute couture”. Christian Dior denoted him “the master of us all”, thanks to an inventiveness that had not been witnessed before in the world of fashion. He introduced “semi-fit” dresses dissimilar to anything on the market. He became renowned for this signature modern-feminine style—loose-fitting dresses and coats.
A highly original designer, he widened shoulders and waists—creating the modern tunic dress, the famous cocoon coat, and the infamous sack dress. The ultra-modern shapes continued with bubble “balloon” skirts, funnel gowns, and the square coat. Indeed, his major contribution to fashion was his creation of a new silhouette for the modern women.
Not just in shapes, but in fabrics too—Balenciaga sought out innovation. Favouring heavy fabrics such as stiff satin with intricate embroidery, his designs often looked more like sculptures than items of fashion—always on the edge of fashion pushing the boundaries. His trademarks were his odd and unique touches—stand-out collars.
In fact, he was so renowned that customers risked their own safety to see his outfits during WWII. A favourite of rich and important people, Balenciaga’s designs adorned Pauline de Rothschild, Mona von Bismark, and Jacqueline Kennedy. Throughout the years, Balenciaga also heavily inspired the world of fashion. Designers who worked for him created their own fashion houses—Oscar de la Renta and Givenchy. In 1968, he closed the fashion house, and in 1972 he left this mortal coil.
The House of Balenciaga was also buried until 1986, when Jacques Bogart S.A. revived the brand with a new ready-to-wear collection called Le Dix. Over the years, designers came and went—Michel Goma, Josephus Thimister, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Alexander Wang. After a slumber, the brand was back, and these head designers reinstated the brand’s high-fashion status.
These designers took a fresh take on Balenciaga’s designed and bought the brand into this century. They retained the minimal and avant-guarde feel, and Cristóbal’s signature square loose-fitting style dresses and coats, but they took a sporty turn in 1992, designing the French team’s clothing for the Olympics, and didn’t look back from there.
They remain favorites of celebrities, models, and fashion icons—but those of the new age: Chloë Sevigny, Stephanie Seymour, and Sienna Miller. Balenciaga’s new designer is former Louis Vuitton man Demna Gvasalia, who embodies Balenciaga’s passion for “creative fashion” and architectural designs.
Nowadays, the brand is most famous for its handbags, especially the motorcycle-style “Lariat”—an unmistakably Balenciaga item—looking old yet somehow new. These luxury bags are characterized by their range of colors—from their classic petrol blues to this season’s neon yellows to hot pinks. From their signature hi-top sneakers with wide laces to their sport-look outfits, they have retained the simplicity and drama that Cristóbal created but with a modern twist.