by Mary Blume.
It is somehow fitting that the new biography of Cristobal Balenciaga presents itself as just a whisper of a book. A mere 221 pages with a dusty pink spine and a soft black and white photo on the cover, this little tome provides an inside look behind the creations of Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972). An inside look as recalled by Florette Chelot, the house’s first employee.
Balenciaga led a famously secluded life with not a publicity seeking bone in his body. The Spaniard entered the world of fashion in the 1930s. A major force in haute couture during the 50s and 60s, the House of Balenciagia remains relevant today.
Dramatic silhouettes and sculptural forms defined the Balenciaga look. The designer relied on stiff fabrics for defining their structure. Among his famous creations; the classic suit jacket with the slight fullness, the restraining band. The dresses; the balloon dress, the Chou dress, the sack dress, the envelope dress, the “Infanta” dress 1939. The melon sleeve, the twin-seamed sleeve… oh, his obsession with the sleeves! He famously tore off sleeves that didn’t suit him or his exacting standards.
Unfortunately the book‘s illustrations barely do justice to the creations. Just 8 color pages of illustrations and perhaps 50 b&w photos interspersed among the text, you will need to look elsewhere for examples of the fashions. For the most inclusive look into the collection, see http://world.balenciaga.com where you can visit the current collection as well stroll through the history of the house under the sites “Heritage” section.
The influence of Balenciaga continues today. As a teenager, Karl Lagerfeld is said to have seen an Irving Penn photo of Penn’s wife in a Balenciaga gown in the 1950 September issue of Vogue. That photograph let Lagerfeld know there was a place for him in fashion. Oscar De La Renta worked as a sketch artist for the house when it was located in Madrid during the 1930s. In March 2012 he served as president for the exhibit “Balenciaga and Spain,” curated by Hamish Bowles, at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. Last November, WWD reported that Balenciaga will be headed by Alexander Wang, replacing Nicolas Ghesquière. Carine Roitfield, former editor-in-chief at Vogue Paris, and longtime Wang supporter, was rumored to be joining Wang as a stylist at Balenciaga.
“Haute couture is like an orchestra, whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the directions he gives.”—–Christian Dior