In 1895, Cristóbal Balenciaga was born in the Southern Basque Country. Soon, this young man would develop a fascination for the structure of clothing from his couturier mother. The year was 1910, and fashions were then dictated by Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet, and Gabrielle Chanel. Cristóbal Balenciaga was an autodidact and learned the mechanisms of couture and the secret of cuts simply by buying different styles, unsewing them, sewing them back together, dissecting them, and decomposing them. This is how the couturier prepared himself to found his own label. In 1937, pushed away by the Spanish Civil War, Balenciaga found refuge in Paris and founded his eponymous brand at 10 Avenue George V. When World War II erupted, he was one of the rare couturiers not to close his fashion house. Balenciaga’s genius allowed him to benefit from the fabric shortage to imagine new couture techniques – the volumes and lines were extraordinary and, without accumulating layers of fabric, this artist was able to bring the world a number of pieces each more wild than the next. This is how he turned fashion upside down with key moments such as his first haute couture runway in Paris in 1937, the appearance of the barrel line, the suit, the balloon dress, the bag dress, or the legendary baby dress. And of course, a signature was needed for them.
Cristóbal Balenciaga would sign his creations with his own name. The logo included on the tag showed only the designer’s last name and ‘Maison de Paris’. On a white background, he used black for the printing. At the height of his glory in the 50s, the couturier was made Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in France in 1958. Balenciaga counted among his clients the most iconic women of the day, notably Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, and the Queens of Spain and Belgium. With a simple epigraph for the name of the brand, the Balenciaga signature found a particular echo when in 1968 the news broke: Cristóbal Balenciaga was retiring from fashion as, in his own words, he had “no one left to dress.” Worn out by the advent of ready-to-wear and the mechanization of the entire profession, the artist would pass away four years later, leaving behind him a fashion house devoid of a director but not of pieces and iconic styles. His fashion DNA went down in the books, and a number of clients still sought out Balenciaga’s experimentations, volumes, and purity. In the 70s, a new logo started to appear as a monogram on bags and in ads: the mirrored double B. It was very simple, nothing complex, but nonetheless aesthetically pleasing.
In 1997, the arrival of Nicolas Ghesquière at the head of the brand put Balenciaga back at the center of the action. With his structured cuts and attention to detail, this young designer respected the founder’s spirit all while immersing the Balenciaga look into his own sci-fi fascination. His creations were stripped of logos – only their lines bore witness to who they belonged to. An emblematic style of Ghesquière fashion: the Motorcycle bag, with no logo. The arrival of Demna Gvasalia would change everything. As new creative director, he brought his street culture into couture and made the Balenciaga logo more diverse and exaggerated. While the legendary flipped double B remained, this Georgian designer brought out a number of unexpected logos in his Fall/Winter 2017 collection that became emblems: the logo for the brand Kering and the one used by Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential campaign. On jackets, scarves, nail art on models or shoes, they were everywhere. “I don’t think the final consumer, or the one that I want to dress, has anything to do with the profound significance behind the logos. For me, what really counts is the visuals. It’s about creating a visual suggestion linked to something corporate and formal without necessarily hiding a message or a strong meaning on the inside. It’s really for insiders, people who know what’s happening in the kitchen and behind the scenes,” concluded Demna Gvasalia.