The Story Behind the Balenciaga Fashion House, That Was Given the Second Life by Georgian Designer Demna Gvasalia

Perhaps even those who are not connected to fashion know about this brand name. Today, when hearing Balenciaga, many people associate the name with sneakers, oversized sweatshirts, and other trendy attributes of the modern wardrobe. One might get the impression that this is a new brand that just appeared in our lives relatively recently and got its niche right away. However, this is not true. The founder of this fashion house, Cristóbal Balenciaga, was born in the 19th century and he was considered one of the main designers who were admired by Christian Dior and Coco Chanel.

We at Bright Side decided to carefully study the story of this brand which has not only managed to resurrect itself, but that has also become one of the most popular and discussable brands in the world today.

  • Cristóbal Balenciaga was born in Spain on January 21, 1895, precisely 10 years before the birth of Christian Dior. Thus, these 2 geniuses of the fashion world were born on the same day but with a 10-year difference.
  • He grew up in a small city called Getaria. His father was a simple fisherman, his mother was a seamstress. When Cristóbal was still a child, his father passed away and his family faced difficult times. The future designer would spend a lot of time with his mother and by doing so he learned how to sew at an early age. At 12, Balenciaga started to work as an apprentice for a tailor.
  • When he was a teenager, one of the most powerful women of the city, the Marchioness de Casa Torres, became his customer and patron. She sent the young man to Madrid where he got a formal education in tailoring. This meant that Balenciaga was one of the few couturiers in the fashion world who could not only design clothes but also make patterns, sew, etc.
  • Cristóbal quickly became successful in Spain. He opened his own boutique in 1919 and the members of the Spanish royal family were present among his clients. However, after the civil war, he had to move to Paris. Soon after that, he opened his Parisian haute couture house.
  • His first collection, inspired by the Renaissance in Spain, immediately became successful in France. By the way, it was he who introduced the basque detail on a skirt at the waistline, which is still used today. Though a basque is a very traditional Spanish detail, it was Cristóbal who adjusted it to fit the wardrobe of the fashionistas of those times.
  • The designer’s talent unfolded completely in the ’50s. This was the time of his creative breakthroughs and victories. Later this period will end up being called “Balenciaga’s revolution.” In 1947, Christian Dior introduced the “new look” silhouette to fashion by creating the image of a “perfect woman” with a thin waist, elegant hips, and fragile shoulders. However, the Spanish designer decided to break this trend and went his own way.
  • By 1951, Cristóbal Balenciaga had drastically changed a woman’s silhouette. He removed the waistline in his dresses and widened the shoulder line. With that being said, he created a new silhouette for women, making it more comfortable and free, but it still retained elements of grace and elegance. In 1955, he developed the tunic dress which became a wildly popular wardrobe item, and later evolved into a chemise dress. What’s more, experts called the manipulation of the waistline one of Balenciaga’s greatest contributions to the development of fashion.
  • In 1957, the designer had a conflict with the press. The thing is, he showed his collection to the fashion press one day before the clothing retail delivery date, not 4 weeks prior as the rules among designers of that time had declared. By doing this, Cristóbal wanted to avoid having anyone copy his designs. Journalists resented this decision but Balenciaga was adamant and followed this rule for the next 10 years. Balenciaga was also supported by his protégé, Hubert de Givenchy.
  • In the late 1950s, Balenciaga started experimenting with fabrics and new materials. He created a fabric called gazar in collaboration with the Swiss fabric house Abraham. It’s a special type of dense silk that can perfectly keep its shape. It was gazar that allowed the designer to create unique silhouettes for his dresses, which were more like sculptures.
  • During that period, the designer’s models were starting to be called “monsters.” All because the couturier instructed them to never smile, to never look anyone in the eyes, and to just simply glance over the heads of clients with a haughty expression on their faces.
  • Balenciaga was highly appreciated, even by his competitors. For example, Dior called him “the master of us all,” while Coco Chanel would say that he was “the only couturier in the truest sense of the word. The others are simply fashion designers.” Though, as a rule, she wasn’t nice to her contemporaries.
  • Unlike most of his fellow designers, Balenciaga has always tried to avoid the hype around his name — he never bowed at the end of his shows and gave only one full interview in 1971.
  • This fashion master gave a lot of cult things to this world. Here are just a few of them: the bag-dress, the envelope-dress, the baby-doll dress, the voluminous cocoon-dress. However, at that time, many of his ideas were repeatedly copied by competitors after his departure.
  • Also, Balenciaga was the one who came up with the uniform for the flight attendants of Air France in 1968. They have even been called the most stylish flight attendants of all time. The uniforms were made in navy blue and white.
  • His farewell moment with the fashion world was in 1968 when the hippie subculture became popular. Of course, Balenciaga’s aesthetics were no longer trendy in the modern world. Androgyny came into vogue, and the lines between men’s and women’s clothing started to blur. The designers couldn’t put up with it and preferred to leave the fashion Olympus and be remembered as the most stylish and elegant couturier.
  • They say when Cristóbal’s haute couture fashion house was closed, his avid fan, the famous socialite Mona Bismarck spent 3 days locked in her hotel room, mourning the loss of her favorite designer.
  • The designer presented his last work not long before his death. Despite the closure of the fashion house, Cristóbal agreed to create a wedding dress for Francisco Franco’s granddaughter — María del Carmen Martínez-Bordiú.
  • The master passed away in 1972 at the age of 77 — perhaps, he couldn’t live long without his beloved haute couture. On the day of his death, the Women’s Wear Daily magazine was published with the title “The King is Dead.” The Balenciaga fashion house remained closed until 1986.
  • For several years, various designers have tried to return the house to its former glory. In 1992, the House of Balenciaga designed clothes for French athletes to wear during the Summer Olympics. In 1997, Nicolas Ghesquière, Jean-Paul Gaultier’s apprentice, became the head designer of the company.
  • In 2007, the fashion house presented the cult clothing item known as “robot” leggings that consisted of hundreds of pieces of glittery material. The same year, the singer Beyoncé wore them during her performance at the BET Awards.
  • In 2012, Nicolas Ghesquière was replaced by designer Alexander Wang but he only stayed in this position for 3 years. Finally, in 2015, Demna Gvasalia, who gave a second life to the fashion house, became the new creative director of the brand.
  • Demna was born in Georgia in 1981. When he was 12, his family moved to Dusseldorf, Germany. Later he studied international economics at Tbilisi State University and later attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Fashion Design.
  • As Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia not only managed to shake up the fashion industry but he also created new rules. Demna knew well that sports and fashion are almost inseparable today, that’s why when the Balenciaga fashion house released its famous “ugly sneakers,” they instantly won the hearts of fashionistas all over the world, while other brands started to copy them.
  • Gvasalia managed to do the unbelievable — he changed the understanding of what beauty is. If earlier designers were mainly trying to make a woman’s leg look elegant, he convinced everyone that massive shoes were a new trend.
  • From Demna’s very first show, Balenciaga became one of the most discussed brands. It became popular both among underground-style youth and among celebrities and trendsetters. Famous people like Kanye West, Kylie Jenner, and Bella Hadid wear clothes created by him.
  • Also, Demna became one of the favorite designers of the Russian actress Renata Litvinova. Not only did she become his friend but she also became one of the promoters of the brand. She even changed her glamourous style. At the spring-summer 2020 show, fans saw the star in a completely atypical image for her. She appeared on the runway without her usual makeup and in a loose black hoodie, which didn’t accentuate her shape at all.
  • It seems that the new designer of the fashion house is intentionally trying to not make the human figure more attractive. He quickly realized that the world’s tendency in fashion was moving toward androgynous style and made a bet on it. And it was the right decision. Today gender differences in clothes are blurred, especially when it comes to youth, and Demna was one of the first ones who started to release these collections.
  • It might seem to some people that Demna’s ideas are too extravagant and revolutionary but he is simply following in the footsteps of his genius predecessor. Cristóbal’s contemporaries also believed some of the designer’s ideas were too bold and even crazy. For example, the famous balloon dresses that are trendy even today. We are even more convinced about this by looking at today’s collections from the fashion house where Gvasalia often quotes Balenciaga.
  • Today, very few people connect the Balenciaga fashion house with its founder. But the good thing is that Cristóbal’s business has continued to thrive and is still setting trends. After all, it does matter.

Whose designs do you like more — Cristóbal Balenciaga’s or Demna Gvasalia’s?

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