How Cristóbal Balenciaga Defined the Fashion World

Explore His Work at the V&A Museum

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of his first fashion house and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his Paris salon with the first ever Balenciaga exhibition in the UK.

If you are looking for something to do in London this summer, and you’re passionate about fashion history, pop into the V&A for a special treat. The museum has just opened an exclusive exhibition about the work and legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the Spanish designer who reshaped the fashion industry.


Silk taffeta evening dress, Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1955, Paris, France. Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Born in the Basque fishing village of Getaria in 1895, Balenciaga was introduced to fashion from an early age as he spent a lot of time with his seamstress mother. During his teenage years, he started an apprenticeship as a tailor, and one of the most important aristocrats of the city, the Marchioness de Casa Torres, became a client. Impressed by his work, she sent him to Madrid to train, and in 1917 he opened his first boutique in San Sebastián, later expanding his business to Madrid and Barcelona. However, the Spanish Civil War forced him to close, so he moved to Paris, the capital of fashion, and opened a couture house on Avenue George V in 1937.


Cristóbal Balenciaga at work, 1968, Paris, France, by Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

His designs were not only loved by aristocrats, celebrities, and the Spanish royal family, but also garnered praise from his contemporaries, with other designers proclaiming him the ‘King of Fashion’. Christian Dior called him “the master of us all”, and Coco Chanel said that “he was the only couturier in the truest sense of the word”.

His career peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, the two decades that this exhibition focuses on.

Balenciaga was a true innovator. He gave life to new shapes, introducing the shift and the sack dress, the tunic, the high-waisted baby doll dress, the balloon skirt, and the cocoon coat. He gave new structural shapes to women’s silhouettes, defining a new modern look.


Alberta Tiburzi in ‘Envelope’ dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga. by Hiro Wakabayashi for Harper’s Bazaar, June 1967, Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Even after his salon’s closure in 1968 and his death in 1972, Balenciaga’s influence is still present today and continues to inspire designers all over the world.

Cassie DaviesStrodder, the curator of the exhibition, told Vogue UK: “He is such a mystery because he didn’t do many interviews or write a biography…”, but this didn’t stop them from exploring what Cristóbal Balenciaga left to the fashion industry. “We knew from an early stage that we wanted to look at the legacy up to the present day.” And that’s why you will also be able to see the work of the designers who worked closely with or trained under him, like Oscar de la Renta, Céline, Simone Rocha, J.W. Anderson, and of course creative directors Nicolas Ghesquière and Demna Gvasalia.


Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ will run until February 2018. For more information and prices, visit the V&A website.

Will you visit the exhibition this summer or have you already been there? Let us know by commenting below.


Words: Ammy Putzu


Hashtags: #V&A #Balenciaga #fashion #exhibition

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