Cristóbal Balenciaga

Evening dress, Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1960. Museum no. T.17-2006

Evening dress, Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1960. Museum no. T.17-2006

Born in the Basque region of Spain, Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895 - 1972) was apprenticed to a tailor from the age of 12. In 1914 he opened the House of Balenciaga in San Sebastian, where most of his clients were aristocrats. After the Spanish monarchy was deposed in the 1930s, Balenciaga moved to Paris. Here he became known for dramatic black coats and dresses which recalled Spanish fashions of the Elizabethan age.

Balenciaga was an extremely private man who gave few interviews. He is often called a 'designer's designer', since some knowledge of tailoring is needed to fully appreciate his clothes. He preferred to work with firm, stiff fabrics which gave his clothing a sculptural appearance. His 1960 sack dress was much copied by other designers.

The House of Balenciaga, typical of the Paris fashion world, had many wealthy customers. However, it was severely challenged in the 1960s, as fashionable young people bought ready-to-wear clothing instead of couture. Symbolically, Balenciaga closed down his fashion house in 1968, a year of violent political protests in Paris. Nonetheless, in training both Courrèges and Ungaro, Balenciaga continued to influence radically different 1960s fashion.

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