balenciaga did it first


Casting director Douglas Perrett of COACD released a book called “Wild Things” in which he unveiled Polaroid pictures from 2000 to 2010 of future models at their first castings and his first impression of them.

Miranda Kerr – First impression: “She would always do her castings with her blonde friend, another Aussie who would always get the job. She never booked the jobs.”

Chanel Iman – First impression: “Realized how young these kids are. She needed a hug that day.”

Arizona Muse – First impression: “Didn’t get at first; Her hair, her face.”

Elettra Wiedemann – First impression: “Meh.”

Candice Swanepoel – First impression: “Didn’t like her; Found her very Barbie-like.”

Hilary Rhoda – First impression: “Her first season, they begged her to do my shows. Too tall. She later did Balenciaga that season.”

Abbey Lee Kershaw – First impression: “They kept sending her over to hang out. I wasn’t sure why, neither was she.”

Daul Kim – First impression: “We just connected in a nerdy bloggy kind of way; lots of staring and grunting sounds.

Rosie Huntington Whiteley – First impression: “Upbeat character, she seemed to have her eye on the big picture.”

Liu Wen – First impression: “Professional, in and out. Class act.”

Fashion History: Cristóbal Balenciaga

Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1927.

Cristóbal Balenciaga was a brilliant fashion designer at his peak in the post-WWII years of the 1950s. He was known for highly tailored and beautiful evening gowns, as well as daywear and dresses without waistlines–but by no means shapeless. his works are still considered to be wearable art.

Balenciaga was born on January 21, 1895 in the fishing village of Getaria, Spain.

Jose Balenciaga Basurto and Martina Eisaguirre, 1880s.

Balenciaga grew up quite close to his mother. After the death of his father in 1906, and at the age of eleven, Cristóbal spent time with his seamstress mother, often helping her sew as she supported herself and her son.

Martina Eisaguirre Embil

Enjoying the act of sewing, Cristóbal went on to apprentice as a tailor at the age of twelve.

His work was noticed by a Noblewoman, the Marchioness de Casa Torres, Carolina Herrera.

Herrera was so taken with Balenciaga’s work that she sent him to Madrid to be formally trained, and became his patron. Herrera would often proudly wear his results.

Balenciaga became a success in Spain. In 1915, at only twenty, he opened his first couture house in the Summer resort town of San Sabastián, Spain. He named his firm Eisa, a shortened version of his mother’s maiden name, Eisaguerre. For the next fifteen years, Balenciaga was Spain’s leading couturier. He would make frequent visits to Paris, where he’d buy garments produced by top designers, including Coco Chanel, Madame Vionnet, and Elsa Schiaparelli, so that they would be deconstructed, in order to learn the techniques of other designers. Because of his magnificent designs, Balenciaga was favored by Spanish royalty, and they often commissioned his clothing.

By 1936, Balenciaga had opened two more boutiques in Madrid and Barcelona, but he had to flee the country for safety during the Spanish Civil War. He went to France, and, after some hesitation, moved to Paris.

Balenciaga opened his first couture fashion house in Paris on Avenue George V in August of 1937.

Cristóbal Balenciaga was a perfectionist. His dedication to tailoring was unmatched, except for Christian Dior and Charles James, and unlike most designers, Balenciaga more often than not did not sketch out his ideas, similar to Vionnet.  He did however, always start with the fabric first.

Example of when Balenciaga did sketch his ideas onto paper, with their results. Dress and coat ensemble, 1953.

Balenciaga would hold and feel the material, envisioning a garment; so much so that it wasn’t uncommon for him to lose sleep. Honoring the cloth was Balenciaga’s obsession, and if he couldn’t figure out a problem with making the material perfect, it simply did not become a dress. He would not allow an imperfect garment to leave his work room. Clothing, it could be said, was Balenciaga’s religion–even though he was a devout Catholic.

Balenciaga was also a very private man. He was introverted, preferring to work alone as his commissions, while the staff worked on fittings and dealing with customers.. He avoided fitting clients personally; he never met customers ace to face. Balenciaga also avoided publicity. He never once came out after a fashion show to bow after his fashion line ended in all the years he worked. It was clear he wanted anonymity in his personal life, and one reason could have been because he was gay. Balenciaga had a long time lover named Vladzio Zawrorowski d’Attainville, a milliner who helped Balenciaga set up in Paris.

Co-founder of the fashion house, Nicolas Bizcarrondo, Milliner and long time lover Vladzio Zawrorowski d'Attainville, and Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Sadly, Vladzio died in 1948, and Cristóbal, brokenhearted, wanted to close his business. The world was thankful he didn’t.

The designer, Chanel, chose not to out Balenciaga along with the others on her list, including Christian Dior, because she liked Balenciaga’s technical sewing skills. She believed he was one of the best designers in Paris.

It wasn’t until after WWII that Balenciaga really hit his stride. His firm produced hundreds of garments, many inspired by Spanish culture.

Balenciaga’s “Infanta Gown” was inspired by Spanish princesses of the 1600s.

His bolero jackets were based on bullfighters’ costumes.

Balenciaga’s clothes were so popular, they had people risking danger to travel to WWII torn Europe for his Square Coat.

Balenciaga invented a new silhouette for women. In the 1950s, when Christian Dior’s New Look was popular, Balenciaga went another direction. He sewed clothes to please himself, not necessarily his clients.

Balenciaga lowered waists, then raised them, such as this high waist evening dress from 1959-60.

He designed the Balloon jacket, such as this example from 1953.

Balloon skirted evening dress, 1952.

Balloon skirted evening dress, 1957.

Balenciaga invented the cocoon jacket.

He also invented the sack such as this one from 1957.

In 1958, Balenciaga created the Baby Doll dress, which is still popular today.

However, the designer soon began to see competition in the form of new fashion changes. In the 1960s, the ready-to-wear movement began taking serious hold, disrupting the old way of getting fitted for a uniquely sewn piece of clothing. Balenciaga wasn’t prepared to battle against the likes of the mini skirt, which was created–most likely by Mary Quant–during this time. So Balenciaga quit Haute Couture. He retired in 1968 and the House of Balenciaga closed its doors, Cristóbal going back to his home country.

He passed away on March 23, 1972, at the age of 77 in Xàbia, Spain.

The House of Balenciaga now belongs to Kering, a French multinational company, and is under the direction of Demna Gvasalia, where they continue to create beautiful works of wearable art to this day.

Balenciaga, Spring, 2017.