Balenciaga was born on January 21st, 1895 in Getaria a small fishing village located in the Basque region of Spain. During his early years he spent most of his time being an apprentice of his own mother who was a seamstress. During his teens the noblest woman of the region, the Marquesa of Casa Torres became his patron and his first client. Balenciaga was send by the noble woman to Madrid to receive formal training in tailoring; she proudly wore and showed off the results. This opportunity gave a young Balenciaga success in his native country and made him one of the few couturiers in History who was able to design, cut and sew his creations. As Balenciaga once noted “A couturier must be an architect for design, a sculptor for shape, a painter for colors, a musician for harmony and a philosopher for temperance.” Balenciaga open branches of his boutique Eisa in Madrid, Barcelona and the fashionable seaside resort of San Sebastian. His designs were favored by the aristocracy of Spain including the Spanish royal family. The eruption of the Spanish Civil War forced him to close down his boutiques and moved to Paris. Once in Paris he opened his couture house on 10 George Avenue V; where he immediately became an instant success among the elite and joined the ranks of Chanel and Schiaparelli. By 1939 Balenciaga was becoming a revolutionizing force in fashion with customers fighting to gain access to his collections, even during World War II his clientele risked travel to Europe to obtain his designs. His designs were very popular because the clothes he created were different than the popular, curvy hourglass shape that Dior was promoting. Balenciaga liked working with fluid lines that allowed him to alter the way clothing related to a woman’s body. He became known for his exact standards and insistence on using absolute black for his designs; it wasn’t unusual for him to attend 100 fittings a day. Balenciaga did not use a framework of corsets, girdles and stays under his clothing; he relied on the structure of the dress only. Given to his perfectionism and standards his fashion house produce 350 designs a year, this was less than half than the 800 Dior was producing. He was known in the trade for inspecting and re-setting sleeves even after the garment was shown in a collection or after the client have purchased the design. During his career he developed many designs that became the biggest trends of the time giving others the chance to copy his most acclaimed designs, something he didn’t enjoyed. Balenciaga’s lack of consideration for and connection to the appearance of the everyday woman was one major reason for his swift fall in popularity during the 1960’s. As the fashions of France moved pushed forward and changed with the introduction of prêt-a-porter, Balenciaga became disillusioned and closed his house in 1968. This marked the end of the career of a great artist whose influence is still being felt in the twenty-first century. He is remembered as a true fashion innovator that altered the silhouette of women in the mid twentieth century; as one of his long time clients noted: “Women did not have to be perfect or even beautiful to wear his clothes. His clothes made them beautiful.” He created garments that had fluidity and grace. His modern look was adapted by Andre Courreges and Emanuel Ungaro who both apprenticed at his atelier as well as Hubert de Givenchy. Balenciaga became respected in the fashion world for his knowledge of technique, construction and perfectionism. Balenciaga died on March 24, 1972 at home in his beloved Spain. Rise to Fame
Balenciaga was known for using the female body as a living sculpture to build his famous and intricate designs. People will refer to him as “a sculptor for shape,” His process of creating a dress was the one of an architect, he firmly believe that “if the framework is good, one can build what he wants.” He used this philosophy to create...
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