Named ‘The Master Of Us All’ by fashion icon Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga was instrumental in bringing haute couture to fifties fashion. One of the more prominent designers of his time, he fashioned a new silhouette for women with his open necked and wide collared creations that were named “The Revolution”. They remain a vintage couture collectable.
Born on January 21,1895 in Guetaria, Spain, Cristobal assisted his seamstress mother from an early age. He was able to design his first collection for Marquesa de Casa Torres at the age of thirteen.
Impressed with his skills, she became his benefactress and assisted him as he formally studied tailoring. After he completed two years of studies in Madrid, he opened his first couture workshop in his native Spain in 1918 to garner early recognition for his Spanish Renaissance inspired designs.
In 1936 the Spanish Civil War forced him to move his successful boutiques to the fashion capitol of the world where he established his Paris design firm. By 1939 he was being lauded as a force in the fashion industry with his popular “Infanta” dresses and elaborately embroidered evening wear.
At a time when most fashion designers were enamored with Dior’s New Look, his post war sculptural designs were considered revolutionary. They were streamlined with a fluidity unseen in most fifties fashion.
Other innovations attributed to him were the 1951 semi-fitted suit with broad shoulders, volume in the back, and a tighter fitting front; the 1955 two piece tunic dress with straight lines for ease of movement; the 1957 and 1958 sack dress, chemise, and trapeze or baby doll designs without waistlines; and the 1959 kimono sleeved coats and empire line evening wear.
It is said he was one of Jackie Kennedy’s favorite fifties designers and that after her marriage to John F. Kennedy, she disregarded the President’s admonishment to refrain from buying couture designs after his election for fear the American public might think the creations too extravagant. Her father-in-law discreetly paid her couture bills.
In 1960, Cristobal Balenciaga designed the wedding gown for Fabiola de Mora y Aragon, the future Queen of Belgium, and the granddaughter of his benefactress, the Marquesa de Casa Torres.
He dressed Princess Grace of Monaco, Ava Gardner, the Duchess of Windsor and many more of the most fifties fashion conscious women in the world before closing his Paris fashion houses in 1968 and dying in his beloved Spain on March 24, 1972.
The Victoria and Albert Museum Golden Age of Couture Exhibit September 22, 2007 – January 6, 2008 features his tailored suits as one of the exhibit’s highlights.
A collection of his designs may be seen at Cristobal Balenciaga Museo