Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) Flamenco-style evening dress, Cristobal Balenciaga, Paris, 1961. Photograph 1971.© Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's.
The only silver spoon that Cristobal Balenciaga was born with was that of talent, and the birthright of a country filled with inspiration, history and stimuli.
Balenciaga was from Getaria, a fishing town in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. His mother was a seamstress, his father a fisherman who died when Cristobal was very young. He spent his childhood learning from his mother while she worked, until he was apprenticed to a tailor when he was twelve.
In his teens his patron and client, Marchioness de Casa Torres sent him to Madrid where he was formally trained in tailoring.
All of this provided a foundation for one of the few couturiers in fashion history who could design, cut, and sew an item from scratch
'La Tulipe' evening dress, gazar, Balenciaga for EISA, Spain,1965. Made for Ava Gardner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
His first runway collection shown at his Avenue George V Atlelier, where he moved when the Spanish Civil War forced the move of his operation to Paris, was inspired by Spanish Renaissance. This was the start of many interpretations of various aspects of Spanish culture that Balenciaga was to make throughout his career. His ‘Infanta Gown' for instance, was inspired by the costumes of young Spanish princesses from portraits by Diego Velazquez and the short, heavily ornamented ‘jacket of light’ traditionally worn by toreadors; his signature colours were Goyaesque pink with black; he drew on Spanish regional dress seen in the balloon skirts of women from ibiza, for his Autumn 1950 collection; and his love of drapery, wrapping at the hip or flying from the shoulders, has been traced to the robes tumbling around the saints in Zurabaran's canvases.
Bolero Jacket, Velvet with felt and velvet appliqué and beading, Balenciga for EISA, Spain. 1947. © Museo Cristolbal Balenciaga.
Our Madrid based designer, Anton Heunis unsurprisingly also gains inspiration from his Spanish environment and interestingly enough worked with a pupil of Balenciaga, Emmanuel Ungaro.
Thumbing through the book created by Anton for his tenth anniversary, one can see photographs of his own precious antique toreador jacket, montages of local culture and wonderful rich Spanish renaissance colours.
Earrings and Necklace by Jean Louis Blin
Another of our designers who is based in Madrid is Ricardo Douaihi. Richardo channels Spain’s historical inspiration through the rich, stiff crochet that forms the basis of his magnificent jewellery.
Balenciaga invented the high collar which highlights the neckline and of course, any necklace being worn. It’s fascinating reading about Balenciaga whilst relating it to the Spanish based jewellery designers we have, and also to the beautiful Spanish woman, Claudia that works for me and who is acting as the shops model for this blog.
Bracelet by Extastia, Necklace and earrings by Anton Heunis
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, sponsored by American Express, at the V&A from 27 May 2017 – 18 February 2018. vam.ac.uk/balenciaga