Paris may have been the capital that saw him rise, but his designs were true inspirations of his home in Spain. Cristobal Balenciaga lived his childhood years in the coastal town of Getaria, in the Basque country of España. As he accompanied his mother (who worked as a seamstress) on her many appointments with well-heeled families in the area, it was here he had his earliest lessons in sewing, design and pattern-making.
Today, this medieval port town that watched Balenciaga flourish into the designer he was known to be, not only holds the grave of the couturier but also stands the venue of his work thanks to The Balenciaga Museum. Founded in 2011, it is here that we the public are able to enjoy a singular collection that consists of approximately 1.200 donated pieces since the 1980s, featuring items from collectors such as Bunny Mellon, Mona von Bismarck and a personal collection in its’ entirety from Hubert de Givenchy. With a setting as picturesque as the designs themselves, it only takes a few steps to fall head over heels in love with The Balenciaga Museum. Perched on top of a hill in a red and white majestic villa, this ancient residence of Marques and Marquesa of Casa Torres has stood the test of time – grandparents to Queen Fabiola of Belgium and mentors to Balenciaga during the early days of his career. Annexed, the museum, is pure contrast: A modern, volumetric and structural new building that awaits Balenciaga’s work.
“A couturier must be an architect for design, a sculptor for shape, a painter for colour, a musician for harmony, and a philosopher for temperance”, Balenciaga used to say. And the truth is that he has been well known for using the female body as a living sculpture upon which he built his creations. When he designed a dress, he approached the process firmly believing that “if the framework is good, one can build what one wants”. Understanding this philosophy, we will be able to study thoroughly the collections exposed at the museum. Currently, ‘Cristobal Balenciaga: A Timeless Legacy. COLLECTION III’ features a number of iconic models from when Balenciaga opened his first haute couture atelier in 1917, when he was just 22 years old.
The space is filled with extraordinary embroidery, amazing prints and architectural volumes. Cristóbal Balenciaga covered many of his most stunning creations with exquisitely embroidered motifs, the work of the finest craftsmen in Paris. Historic masters of embroidery such as Lesage, Mesrine and Rébé habitually supplied the Balenciaga house. When it came to his prints, Balenciaga returned to printed fabrics time and time again, especially for his day and cocktail models. Conceived by the finest textile designers, the prints used by Balenciaga were characterised by large graphic motifs and semi-abstract floral designs.
And if there is another word that describes Balenciaga’s creations, it is the volume. The extraordinary volumes created by Balenciaga in some of his designs from the 1950s and 60s are one of the hallmarks of his legacy. His creations acquired a certain autonomy with regard to the body they covered, resembling a structure or architectural construction, rather than a dress. Due to this particular vision of sewing, Balenciaga became known as the “architect of Haute Couture”.
Any current exhibitions to see? If you visit the Museum now you will enjoy with ‘Cristóbal Balenciaga: A Timeless Legacy. COLLECTION III’ that features a number of iconic models in terms of their chronological coherence and provenance. For example, there is a dress from 1925 (very few items from this period have survived) and four dresses on loan from the Balenciaga archives, dating from the couturier’s early years in Paris (1937-1941). The exhibition also features some of his innovative creations from the 1950s. The tunic dress, sack line and “baby doll” dress —all milestones in the history of western fashion— reflect Balenciaga’s indisputable supremacy.