Cristóbal Balenciaga’s work with couture marks such rare exigence and rigor that his look wouldn’t take long to go down in the books. Upon his arrival in Paris in 1937, the Spanish master introduced the ‘Infante’ collection largely inspired by the flamboyance of pieces from the previous century passed down by paintings from Goya or Zuloaga. His success was immediate. “From the opening of his Parisian house, the first garments he presented had, despite their simplicity, something majestic – in a word, what we call ‘the look’.. He redefined the female silhouette of the 50s, and the clothing that seems so characteristic of that era to us are in reality just variations of what Balenciaga was doing,” explains Susan Irvine in her reference work Vogue on Cristóbal Balenciaga. Soon, the Parisian public’s fascination for Spanish painters would be manifested in his dresses that would accompany belles to many a ball all around the French capital. “One example, the Infanta dress designed for Madame Bember to be worn to a Louis XIV costume ball, organized by the Count and Countess of Beaumont in August 1939,” can be read in the book Cristóbal Balenciaga: la Forge du Maître, published in 2010. And that was only the beginning, as the ‘couturier of couturiers’ would come out with one iconic piece after another. The balloon dress, the Baby Doll, the Bolero, and the bag dress were all it items that would find takers with a number of renowned or even royal women.
Cristóbal Balenciaga designed with majestic women in mind – a woman of 40 years of age: “Contrary to Dior, Balenciaga hesitated to hire young attractive women as models: the women that fulfilled that role for him were often in their forties, just like his clients. The different models reflected the morphology of his clients in those days. They were the living proof that every woman could be alluring when wearing his clothing,” explains Susan Irvine. In 1962, the master created a dress for the wedding of Fabiola de Mora y Aragón and the King of Belgium. Two years later, the Duchess of Windsor placed an order from him for her official portrait. Hubert de Givenchy declared that his ultimate vision of elegance was that of the Duchess of Windsor standing at one of the windows of the Hôtel Lambert in Paris, wearing a yellow Balenciaga dress. In 1963, the Countess Von Bismarck purchased 88 Balenciaga outfits, including the iconic Boléro. When news of Balenciaga’s closing broke in 1968, Diana Vreeland would say: “Mona wouldn’t come out of her room for three days. I mean… it was the end of a certain part of her life!”
Later on, Grace Kelly would swear by his creations. “The first fitting at Balenciaga is as good as the third elsewhere,” said the great Marlene Dietrich. These pieces were of a great elegance, but their elegance was effortless as well, with looks that gave off a certain je ne sais quoi. Today in the Nicolas Ghesquière era, the Balenciaga woman is marvelously incarnated with the traits, attitude, and off-kilter charm of Charlotte Gainsbourg, the brand’s latest muse. The French designer’s creations take on airs of those of Cristóbal Balenciaga at his height when she wears them. With the recent arrival of Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga has opened up to charismatic business women. This alliance of heritage and attitude culminate in on-point and classic pieces that, in a brand new equation, give life to a conquering attitude – whether you’re 20 years old or 70.