“The king is dead!” When this title appeared on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily in March 1972, everyone in the fashion world knew who is referred to. There was only one king of fashion, the one whom Coco Chanel described as the couturier in the true sense of the word. The rest were simply fashion designers. It was no surprise that Spain produced such a genius as Balenciaga. Many, however, were surprised when the Spaniard became the leading French fashion designer. In 1962, Vogue summed it up like this: “Almost from the first day he opened his salon, in 1937 he was proclaimed the great leader of fashion. What Balenciaga is doing today, other designers will be doing tomorrow or next year. And he, he will go ahead even then. ”
Cristobal Balenciaga was born in Getaria, a fishing town in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, on January 21, 1895. His father was a fisherman and his mother a seamstress. He lost his father when he was just a boy, so Balenciaga often spent time with his mother while she worked. At the age of thirteen, he enchanted a certain marquise with comments about her elegance. Realizing how much potential the boy has, the Marquise enabled him to go to Madrid, where he also acquired formal knowledge in the field of tailoring. Cristobal was very successful during his early career in Spain. At the age of sixteen, he opened the first fashion store in San Sebastian, and in 1920, he opened in Madrid.
A fashion designer must be an architect when it comes to design, a sculptor when it comes to a form, a painter when working with colors, a musician for harmonies, and a true philosopher to achieve moderation. This is how Balenciaga summed up his attitude toward fashion.
The Spanish Civil War forced him to close his boutiques, after which he moved to Paris, where he opened his “Paris Fashion House” in August 1937. However, his original creations received full attention after the war. In 1951, he transformed the silhouette of a woman, widening the shoulders and removing the waist. He designed the dress-tunic in 1955, and in 1957 the dress-shirt was created. His success and work culminated in 1959 with the Empire line consisting of high-waisted dresses and coats.
Although Cristobal Balenciaga’s influence on fashion was enormous, he remained an enigma to the world. Balenciaga himself is to blame for the mystery surrounding his name. Unlike other designers, like Dior or Chanel, he gave only one interview in his life. According to the British Fashion Telegraph, he was so rarely seen in public that some journalists have speculated whether he even existed.
Bettina Ballard, the young fashion editor of Vogue, was first to meet him upon his arrival in Paris in 1937. In the chapter of her autobiography entitled “The Secret World of Cristóbal Balenciaga”, she describes him: “A Spaniard with white skin like an eggshell, dark hair with thick and shiny waves on a well-shaped, beautiful head.” A soft voice like fluff…”
The Times fashion journalist Prudence Glynn, to whom he gave his only interview in 1971, wrote: “In a post-war way influenced by New Look, Dior became a key name in fashion, but for fashion purists, there was only one direction they follow and worship – Cristobal Balenciaga “. Glynn explained that his withdrawal from the public was not the result of arrogance, but that it was “caused by the absolute inability to explain his profession to anyone.”
For many fashion lovers, Balenciaga fashion shows were like a religious rite. Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland described it this way: “It was like the audience was going to explode or die. One fainted. ”
Interestingly, Balenciaga never hired young and attractive models. On the contrary, they were usually middle-aged and never too beautiful. No applause, even the strongest, could change the expressions on their faces – they were there to present the collection. The models reflected the different body types of the clients, revealing the beauty of each woman. He was the only couturier in Paris who insisted that magazines could only hire models from his fashion house for photoshoots. Frustrated editors took photos from the back or simply cut off the model’s head at the top of the page. Despite opinions that his clientele was mostly middle-aged, Balenciaga has dressed women of all ages, and sometimes several generations of one family. With his creations, he showed that even in the forties and fifties, a woman could be perfect. Instead of older women imitating younger ones, young women tried to imitate older ladies’ worldly appearance.
Balenciaga highly valued clients who knew what suited them. Customers who wanted to order everything were not always the best received. In 1963, Countess Bismarck surpassed all when she bought the first 88 and then another 140 garments over the next two years. A little later, the countess was proclaimed “the best-dressed woman in the world”. His clients were also the Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Helena Rubinstein, Bunny Mellon, William Randolph Hearst, Princess Lee Radziwill, and heiress Doris Duke. This list of VIP clients also includes movie stars such as Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, and Lauren Bacall.
Balenciaga was also known for never appearing at the opening of his fashion shows. He watched them from the studio door or through a small hole in the curtains. Although a strict man, Sonsoles Diez de Rivera, who still preserves the heritage of the famous creator, often recounted the meeting of the famous creator and her mother Marie de Llanzol in high society. She met him when she asked the seller for a discount because she could not wear the clothes she bought for a long time due to her pregnancy. Although they politely refused her, noticing Balenciaga in the hallway, Maria hurried to explain her situation to him. “Why would I give you a discount? I am not responsible for your condition.” They both laughed and remained good friends for the rest of their lives.
Shopping at the store on Georges Avenue 10 was a bit of a surreal experience for many. There was a boutique on the ground floor where only bags, gloves, perfumes, and jewelry were sold. The doorman led the clients to the 3rd floor to a wardrobe that was all upholstered in red Cordoba leather. At the entrance, they were met by Mrs. Vera, who asked the clients for identification as if they were crossing the border – which in a way they are. The leading vendors, eight of them, sat at tables on either side of the hall with their assistants.
Along with them was Mademoiselle Renée, the director of the house. She compared the clients’ requests with the magazine samples, usually choosing two clothing combinations for them to try on. Always at 3 pm, the models would come out, presenting the creations, with their eyes opposite to the clientele, like visitors from another world. Balenciaga personally insisted that the models have no eye contact with the clientele to not distract from the clothes. Fashion shows usually lasted one hour, and the only sounds were the rustling of fabric and the sound of feet on the gray carpet. Balenciaga did not assign names to his creations; instead, the models held numbered cards. If they were interested in a dress, the clientele wrote down its number in a small notebook intended for that. Each saleswoman (and assistant) was dressed in a black dress of their own choice from the current collection. The dresses were something like a half gift because they paid for the material. The saleswomen did not have a salary but received a commission from which they paid their assistants.
Twice a year, the new collections were presented to fashion buyers, journalists, and private clients. Loyal customers were the first to be invited to fashion shows, followed by fashion critics and, finally, the media. Taking photos and sketching was strictly forbidden. Even jokes were undesirable. Eugenia Sheppard from the Herald-Tribune called Balenciaga “the great dad of Haute Couture”, after which she was banned from attending fashion shows for several seasons.
Like Chanel, Balenciaga believed that clothes should not interfere with the body. He was continually simplifying them, removing collars, and allowing women to breathe. He cut jackets and coats above the wrist of different lengths – seven eighths, three quarters – which further facilitated movement and allowed women to show off their jewelry.
Hubert de Givenchy gave Vogue a story about Balenciaga’s ability to transfigure: “I remember one day we were watching puppets that reflected certain types of his clients. One had the shape of an older woman with rounded shoulders, a large belly, and hips. While I was watching her, Balenciaga took a muslin piece, pinned it to the doll, and started working. By sewing and cutting the fabric, he gradually lengthened the doll’s look, straightened its shoulders, and the round hips and abdomen simply disappeared. The proportions became almost perfect. It was amazing. ”
It is not surprising, therefore, that many well-to-do ladies lamented when Balenciaga suddenly decided to close the store in 1968, saying, “There is no one left worthy of being dressed.” When the news reached Mona von Bismarck, she did not leave her room for three days. She thought it was the end of one part of her life.
The Spaniard, who gained world fame in the French fashion sky, died in 1972 in Valencia. The designers he taught and inspired, such as Givenchy, Ungaro, Scherrer, Courreges, and many others, are among the greatest in fashion history.
In 1997, the young Frenchman Nicolas Ghesquiere became the creative director of the house. Although he was a relatively unknown designer at the time, his bold creations soon began to be copied by designers from other fashion houses. The men’s collection was launched in 2002, and the following year Balenciaga was bought by the Gucci Group, which continued to support Ghesquiere’s work.
He also transferred his perfectionism to the creation of prestigious perfumes. Thanks to his exceptional talent for achieving harmony and impeccable knowledge of elegance, he could choose the right, delicate and subtle compositions for his fragrances.
The first was Le Dix, created in 1947, named after number 10 in Paris’ Avenue George V, where the Balenciaga store was located. The fragrance and Balenciaga have always been inextricably linked in women’s hearts. Balenciaga Le Dix, one of the most appreciated fragrances of that time, was created by perfumer Francis Fabron.
The mysterious scent Talisman was a real talisman for women. Designed in 1994, this fragrance is a powerful bouquet of floral notes: jasmine, hyacinth, and cyclamen, which playfully dance with freesia and lily of the valley to produce an enchanting aroma.
Quadrille perfume was an invitation to walk through a garden filled with bright flowers. Published in 1955, this timeless and radiant fragrance exudes a pleasant mixture of notes of plum, peach, lemon, clove, and jasmine.
Cristobal is a characteristically masculine fragrance named after its founder. Launched in 2000, Cristobal boasts a casual blend of rich and varied aromatic notes. Elements of coffee and tea add charm to vanilla, soothing lavender, and citrus notes of bergamot. The result is a passionate scent, a bit cheeky and confident like Cristobal himself.
With its elegantly made bottle, Balenciaga Paris promised a “delicate mystery”, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, the new Balenciaga “muse”, as the face of the perfume. Launched in 2010 as a heavenly fragrance for women, Balenciaga Paris perfume combines floral notes of carnation and violet with natural notes of patchouli and cedar from Virginia.
Florabotanica from 2012 launched the “secret garden” presented in the impressive advertising campaign of the superstar “Twilight” Kristen Stewart. Florabotanica is a soothing and natural floral fragrance intended for women who like to put a new spin on anything traditional. Its tempting aroma comes from fresh rose petals and carnations. The name gives this scent a modern appeal, while a touch of mint opens the senses and clears the mind. Florabotanica is closed with a dose of vetiver. The perfume won the Fragrance Foundation Award for Fragrance of the Year 2013.
In an equally striking contemporary bottle, Rosabotanica came out in 2013, whose guardian angel was again Kristen Stewart. Top notes of the “second flower in the magical garden of Balenciaga”, the woody greenish note of petitgrain, balances the refreshing, fruity essence of Mediterranean leaves. Hyacinth adds a charming scent of spring flowers with only a slight hint of fresh rain, and multidimensional base notes of rose and paprika give a floral mix with a spicy aftertaste.
B Balenciaga was designed to usher in a new era of elegance. Launched in the fall of 2014, the perfume is designed to offer women a unique fragrant solution achieved with a combination of lily of the valley, violet, and pea. Middle notes of cedar and iris root follow, followed by base notes of cashmere and ambrette.
The words of the splendid Christian Dior speak best about the significance of the fashion genius Cristóbal Balenciaga:
High fashion is like an orchestra conducted by Balenciaga. All the rest of us are musicians, and we follow the direction he gives.
List of Balenciaga perfumes:
- 28 (1948)
- B. (2014)
- B. Skin (2015)
- B. Paris (2010)
- B. Paris L’Édition Mer (2015)
- B. Paris L’Edition Reflets (2014)
- B. Paris L’Essence (2011)
- B. pour Homme (1990)
- Cialenga (1973)
- Cristobal (1998)
- Cristobal pour Homme (2000)
- Cristobal Pour Homme Eau de Cologne d’Orient (2004)
- Eau de B. for Men (1962)
- Eau de B. Lavande (1973)
- Eau de Cristobal (2003)
- Fleeting Moment / Fuite des Heures (1948)
- Florabotanica (2012)
- Ho Hang (1971)
- Le Club de B. / Ho Hang Club (1987)
- Le Dix (1947)
- L’Eau Rose (2013)
- Michelle (1979)
- Portos (1980)
- Prélude (1982)
- Quadrille (1955)
- Rosabotanica (2013)
- Talisman (1994)
- Talisman Eau Transparente (1996)