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Vintage Designer History: Cristobal Balenciaga

Cristobal Balenciaga's name was just as well known in Paris in the late 1940s as Christian Dior, although Balenciaga was in fact from the Basque country and only moved to Paris in 1937 exactly ten years before Diors 'New Look' arrived on the scene.

His mother was a seamstress and he took a very early interest into her profession. When he was still very young, he made a copy of a suit worn by Marquesa de Casa Torres, a Spanish noble woman in his town. She was so impressed with his skill, she became his benefactor and got him his first apprenticeship with a well known tailor when his father passed away, aged 11. (I have a book that says he was 11, Ive read some other contradictory articles,stating 14 to 16, so who knows)

He was very similar to Charles Fredrick Worth, in that he worked his way up to the top and had many years experience under his belt by the time he opened up his first fashion house in Sans Sebastian in 1918. He later opened 2 more locations, one in Madrid and another in Barcelona, before being forced to shut due to the Spanish civil war in 1936.

He left for London, but eventually settled in Paris, in 1937. His first runway collection was an immediate success and within 2 years he was being hailed as 'revolutionary' in the press.

His genius was in his exceptional skill as a tailor, studying from such a a young age, and continuing to research new techniques as they came along, instead of sticking to the more traditional methods. He was one of the few designers, to not only sketch his designs, but to over see all of the developing stages and it was not unusual for him to go to over 100 fittings a day. Unlike Dior, he did not use framework underneath his dresses, (corsets, girdles etc) instead he relied on the structure of the dress itself only using a bit of interfacing when necessary.

Balenciaga was an intensely private person. He did not give lectures or interviews and his studios and fashion shows were both extremely quiet. Apparently he watched his shows from behind a white curtain and there was very few who actually knew him. He closed his house in 1968, after 30 years in Paris. It was relaunched in 1987 by the same person who owned the company from his death, Jacques company continued to trade well and is one of the most well known and loved brands in the Gucci Group took the majority of the shares in 2001, no doubt driving the success even higher.

As I said Cristobal was so private, there wasn't much information on him outside of his business. Apologies.