The best known Spanish fashion designer, CRISTÓBAL BALENCIAGA was born on this date. Regarded as the master of fashion, his classic designs inspired the fashion industry throughout most of the twentieth century and continue to exert influence.
Born in Guetaria, near San Sebastian, Spain, Cristóbal Balenciaga Eisaguirre was the son of a fisherman. He studied needlework and dressmaking with his mother until 1910. In 1915, he established his own tailoring business under the sponsorship of Marquesa de Casa Torres. By the early 1930s he had established a reputation as Spain’s leading couturier. Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Balenciaga closed his three couture houses and left Spain.
After a brief stay in London, Balenciaga settled in Paris and in 1937 opened The House of Balenciaga on Avenue George V.
Balenciaga never married. This fact, coupled with his career in fashion, has led to speculation and rumors about his sexuality. A deeply private man, he never discussed his personal life publicly.
One particular incident reported by writer Jacqueline Demornex may, however, throw a little light on his sexuality. After an argument between the couturier Coco Chanel and Balenciaga, Chanel allegedly made the following observation to a mutual friend: “It is obvious that he dislikes them (women); look at the way he conceals blouses under suits, just to expose the wrinkles in their necks.” Inasmuch as such charges are frequently made against gay male designers, Demornex ponders why Chanel attacked Balenciaga in such a way: was it his age, his way of dressing women, or his private life?
So flattering were Balenciaga’s creations that women often ordered more than one of each design so that they could wear one while the other was being cleaned or so they could keep one at each of their houses. Remembered as a master of black, Balenciaga often favored a muted palette of colors, especially a combination of black and brown, inspired by the traditional dress of his native Spain. Spain was also the source and inspiration for his use of lace, his heavy embroidery with jet-encrusted trimmings, as well as the brilliant whites and the drama and dignity of stiff formal fabrics reminiscent of those painted by Goya and Velásquez.
In 1968 Balenciaga closed his business rather than see it compromised in a fashion era he did not respect. He retired to Spain and died in 1972.