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Cristóbal Balenciaga’s [1895-1972] name may not roll off the tongue as readily as Chanel or Dior however his work has become the pinnacle of vintage haute couture and his extraordinary work was revered by every Parisian haute couturier. Intensely shy and with an almost monastic approach to his couture house, Balenciaga gave only one interview during his entire career.
Balenciaga’s work had a unique signature which weaved its way through his designs, drawing a line between designs from the 1920s through to the late 1960s. With an exceptional eye for detail and obsession with shape, the defining feature of his work was purity of form and construction. A creator in every sense of the word, when fabric would not deliver what Balenciaga needed of it, he would instead invent it; both silk zagar and silk gazar were fabrics created by him to better deliver his ideas. A Spaniard in Paris, Balenciaga’s upbringing and cultural roots were at the heart of the house and he found inspiration from the paintings of Zurbaran, Goya and Velazquez and from the colours and drama of the Spanish Renaissance.
Retiring suddenly and without fanfare in 1968, Balenciaga’s mastery in fabric and his sculptural, architectural language won him the adulation of his colleagues Dior, Chanel, Givenchy and Courrèges and a coterie of clients who ‘mourned’ the closing of his house. It is said that when his ardent fan and devoted client Mona von Bismarck heard the news of his retirement, she ‘locked herself in her bedroom and refused to come out for three full days’. Such was the magic of Balenciaga.