Christian Dior once said: “Haute Couture is like an orchestra whose director is Balenciaga”. The brand was created by Cristóbal Balenciaga (Gipuzkoa, 1895) when he was just 19 years old. The life of Cristóbal is a mystery, many people usually describe him as a nearly mystic man. However, the Haute Couture of the maison, which is full of secrets, is the symbol of the future of the fashion world. Since then, the brand has lived many stages without forgetting or losing its distinguishing mark: the architecture and the construction applied in fashion.
“Haute Couture is like an orchestra whose director is Balenciaga”
Cristóbal Balenciaga was born in a small village of Gipuzkoa, Spain, in 1895. His mother was a seamstress and this is how he learnt the trade. When he was 13 years old he proposed to one of his mother’s clients to make a copy of the outfit that she was wearing, the client was the marchioness de Casa Torres. She accepted and Cristóbal had the possibility of making a dress inside out. This knowledge about tailoring and seams made him stand out in front of the other fashion designers. He knew how to sew a suit, the movement of the clothing, and their adaptability.
Without a formal training, he started to open his boutiques in San Sebastián in 1917, followed by stores in Madrid and Barcelona. The stores were called Eisa because of his mother’s maiden name Eisaguirre. Because of the Civil War, he had to move to Paris and he officially opened the House of Balenciaga in 1937. Years later, in 1968, Cristóbal decided to close the maison, four years before his death when he was 77 years old. “The Haute Couture is mortally wounded”, he said before his retirement.
“Haute Couture is mortally wounded”
The House of Balenciaga was closed for nearly two decades, but it was reopened in 1987 with Michel Goma as creative director of Balenciaga. Since then, the maison has experienced different periods with different creative directors (Michel Goma, Josephus Thimister, Nicolas Ghesquière, Alexander Wang, and Demna Gvasalia), but always without losing the distinguishing mark of the Haute Couture fashion brand.
MICHEL GOMA (1987-1992)
Jacques Bogart SA bought the Balenciaga’s rights and started a new prêt-à-porter line, which first collection was designed by Michel Goma. His collections were colourful and he liked shorter hems and very long skirts. However, the return of Balenciaga had not the expected repercussion.
JOSEPHUS THIMISTER (1992-1997)
Josephus Thimister managed Balenciaga from 1992 to 1997, after this he created his own Haute Couture maison called ‘Thimister Paris’. Before this, he had already worked for Karl Lagerfeld in Chanel. He designed the prêt-à-porter line of Balenciaga and he usually mixed classic elements with new shapes.
The Haute Couture was always present in Balenciaga during Thimister’s direction of the brand. He studied in Antwerp with the same generation of Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela. Moreover, he worked with Nicolas Ghèsquiere, who was an apprentice at that time, before being designated as the new creative director of the maison in 1997.
The half Dutch and half Belgian, Thimister, presented his first prêt-à-porter collection at Balenciaga based in two colours: black and blue and with a marked Haute Couture style. However, what Balenciaga started to offer at that moment did not cause the same repercussion in society as the maison usually did.
NICOLAS GHESQUIÈRE (1997-2012)
The French fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière was working as Balenciaga’s creative director for 15 years. Ghesquière put Balenciaga at the top again, the fashion editor Sarah Mower once said about him: “The message is clear in just a few minutes of fashion show, (…) its grace is not in creating a look, but uniting a dozen trends and making them all coexist in a continuous sequence”.
Nicolas made the Balenciaga défilé a show, he usually combined different trends: robotic women, half human half android, dressed with cuirass, and wearing a discreet make-up. With just 50 models on the runway, Ghesquière made the Balenciaga’s parades a round trip to the future. He stood up as Balenciaga’s creative director because of his success with boots, handbags, and leather rider jackets.
“You don’t need a body when you come to me. I’ll give you one”, Nicolas Ghesquière
Ghesquère also renovated the Balenciaga’s clientele with a new actress’s generation: Nicole Kidman, Diane Kruger , Charlotee Gainsbourg, among others. With this, he made Balenciaga present again on red carpets again.
The period with Nicolas Ghesquière as the creative director of Balenciaga was considered the golden one of the maison. It was characterized by a constant futuristic vision. However, Nicolas left Balenciaga in 2012 and started working for Louis Vuitton as the creative director too.
ALEXANDER WANG (2013-2015)
After Ghesquière we find the Californian Alexander Wang (San Francisco, 1984), who was named as creative director of the brand when he was 29 years-old. “I feel deeply honoured to embark on a house that I admire and respect so much” said Wang in the announcement published by Balenciaga at that moment.
“I feel deeply honoured to embark on a house that I admire and respect so much”
Wang knew how to take advantage of the opportunity that being Balenciaga’s creative director offered him: he experimented with shapes but especially with materials, this concept of experimentation was very Balenciaga. Moreover, he added the concept of sport and sobriety to the maison’s collections without forgetting the cocoon coat in different versions, which made his creative direction very characteristic. Alexander Wang recreated the classic style of Balenciaga but approached exaggeration.
However, the Californian fashion designer left the maison in 2015, two years before the centenary of Balenciaga, with the brand and Kering deciding not to renew Wang’s contract.
DEMNA GVASALIA (2015-Present)
The last creative director of the maison is Georgian fashion designer Demna Gvasalia (Georgia, 1981). He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, one of the most prestigious art schools in the world. In 2009 he worked at Maison Martin Margiela till 2013, in that year he founded his own fashion brand called Vetements with his brother.
The announcement of his designation as the new creative director of Balenciaga in 2015 supposed his definitive recognition. He was designated due to the knowledge and the culture that he had got with his experience and also for his mastery of technology. “Gvasalia has quickly proven to be the best option for the artistic direction of the maison” said the Balenciaga’s general manager, Isabelle Guichot, about him.
Gvasalia doesn’t believe in trends. His collections are so characteristic because of his obsession with the volume and the play of superpositions. He likes to think big and that is his distinguishing mark. His referents are ordinary, he loves ugly things and synthetic materials. But he has known how to combine all of this with the classic Balenciaga style. Moreover, he announced that they were supposed to bring back the Haute Couture to the maison of Balenciaga in during Haute Couture shows next July: “It is my duty being creative and a visionary to bring back haute couture” said Gvasalia.
“It is my duty being creative and a visionary to bring back haute couture”
In conclusion, the maison of Balenciaga has a long story behind it. Many creative directors have been in command of the fashion brand without losing its essence: the love for volumes and the classic elegance mixed with avant-garde trends. This makes Balenciaga one of the most important fashion brands in the world and if Gvasalia finally brings back the Haute Couture to the maison, Balenciaga will probably have the same influence in that market as it had with Cristóbal Balenciaga.