It was once said, that when a woman wearing a Balenciaga gown walks into a room, there is no other woman there. His clothes were so elegant, grand and perfectly made, that he alone was known as “The Master”.
1885 Cristobal Balenciaga was born in Guetaria, Spain of humble parents. His father was a sailor, who died young. His mother was a dressmaker. His deftness and skill in making clothes was evident from a very early age.
1897 He was apprenticed to a tailor in San Sebastian.
1898 When he was 13, he met the beautiful Marquesa de Casa Torres, who allowed him access to her wardrobe and entrusted him to make a copy of one of her dresses.
1902 Cristobal spent several months in Bordeaux learning French, since he felt this would be essential for his career.
1913 When he was 19 he started to work for Calle de Hernani who made ladies gowns.
1919 Cristobal Balenciaga opened his first salon in San Sebastian, then later a second and a third in 1933 in Madrid. This was run by his sister from 1948 to 1968 when it closed. In 1935 he opened his Barcelona salon.
The Empress Eugenie, the Queen Mother Maria Cristina and other royal ladies, stayed at San Sebastian, a fashionable seaside resort and Balenciago went personally to the Miramar palace for fittings for their gowns.
Throughout the 20’s Balenciaga had been visiting Paris buying couture creations to sell at his salons in Spain. He bought from Worth, Lanvin, Cheuit, Molyneux, Paquin, Lelong, Vionnet, Chanel, and Schiaparelli.
1937 When the Spanish civil war started Balenciaga moved to Paris and presented his first collection in August of that year. He was not an inexperienced novice when he arrived in Paris but he was not well-known however within a year his dresses were seen on all fashionable women and he was hailed as the new leading light.
1938 The Duchess of Westminster ordered a pink jersey dress, and the American buyers ordered many of his gowns. Within a year, his name was heard everywhere.
Balenciaga always seemed to be several steps ahead of the other designers. He had what VOGUE called the “flame of prophecy.” In the 30’s many of his jersey draped dresses looked ahead to a 40’s silhouette. When Dior was making headlines with this shape, Balenciaga showed a suit with no waist which became the ‘sack’ a few years later. By then he was making chemise dresses which would be the sleeveless sheath of the 60’s. He was the first in 1957 , to bare the leg to the knee in one of his evening dresses, long before the mini appeared.
1939 When the war began, Balenciaga closed briefly, then carried on using very little material. 1944 Balenciaga’s collection featured kimono sleeves with empire line bodice.
1945 As soon as the war was over, Paris fashion went for modern designs, bright colours, lots of fabric and very feminine dresses. Balenciaga produced great creations of lace, velvet, sequined satin and lots of new hats. Balenciaga hated the fashion press and publicity, and from 1957 denied them entry to his collections. He held his shows a full month after all the other couturiers. He hated the idea of working to please a voracious press that demanded new ideas with every collection. He did not work that way. He refined his ideas with every collection, increasing the level of excellence. He trained Givenchy, Courreges, Ungaro and others and they even now, regard him as their mentor.