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Cristobal Balenciaga: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Couturier

As 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' is launched at the Victoria & Albert Museum we chart the little known facts of the couturier

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Although Cristóbal Balenciaga is not as well known as his contemporaries Gabrielle Coco Chanel, and Christian Dior, Balenciaga’s influence on fashion and style throughout the 21st century up to today, is impressive. In light of the new Balenciaga retrospective Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at The V&A (the first of its kind in the UK), we take a look at the little-known facts of the man behind the clothes.

Balenciaga orange coat

Model wearing Balenciaga orange coat as I. Magnin buyers inspect a dinner outfit in the background, Paris, France, 1954 © Mark Shaw,

1. Cristóbal Balenciaga was a very private man, so much so that he only ever spoke to the press once, throughout his time as a celebrated couturier.

2. His mother was a seamstress and as a child, Cristóbal worked with her and learnt his craft as a couturier, tailor and pattern cutter. Before he opened his first boutique in San Sebastian, he already had 20 years experience.

Dovima with Sacha Balenciaga

Dovima with Sacha, cloche and suit by Balenciaga, Café des Deux Magots, Paris, 1955. Photograph by Richard Avedon © The Richard Avedon Foundation

3. In Spain, Balenciaga housed his more affordable collection, Eisa, which continued the Paris style of Balenciaga, but at a fraction of the cost in San Sebastian.

4. His models were called ‘the monsters’ because of the strict instructions Balenciaga gave them. They were told to haughtily walk down the catwalk with stern faces, and had quite the bad reputation.

Elise Daniels with street performers Balenciaga

Elise Daniels with street performers, suit by Balenciaga, Le Marais, Paris, 1948. Photograph by Richard Avedon © The Richard Avedon Foundation

5. Oscar de la Renta, Paco Rabanne, and Hubert Givenchy were all advised or mentored by Balenciaga.

6. The popular anorak coat designed by Demna Gvasalia for the fashion house in A/W’16, was based on the incredible pattern cutting and shape work from the Balenciaga archive, and it not styled to fall off the shoulders, but cut to be worn in that way.

7. Balenciaga created the ‘sack dress’ in the sixties, which was very radical at the time, when the popular look of the times was the Christian Dior new look.

8. Balenciaga rejected the rise of high end ready to wear collections, in favour of couture. He couldn’t imagine creating something without knowing who would own it.

9. He dressed Hollywood stars, royalty and Mona Bismark exclusively. Mona only wore Balenciaga, and when the couture house closed, she spent three days locked in her hotel room, mourning the loss of her favourite designer. Balenciaga had many loyal customers and relationships.

10. Coco Chanel said that he was ‘the only true couturier, others are just draftsmen’, while Christian Dior said he was ‘the master of us all.’

Cristobal Balenciaga at work

Cristóbal Balenciaga at work, Paris, 1968. Photograph Henri Cartier-Bresson © Henri Cartier-Bresson, Magnum Photos

Tickets are on sale from today for the exhibition, which runs from the 27 May – 18 February 2018.

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