casa torre

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.

Mi innamoro facile / I fall in love too easily

Mi innamoro facile
La prima volta fu di una bambina
a sei o sette anni
E fu eclatante
Poi a dodici di Lorca
Ma non me ne accorsi subito
Così come accade solo coi grandi amori
Ero distratto da certi capelli neri
E un maglioncino rosa
Facevo dediche alle radio
E poi della donna a quindici
E dell’amore e del sesso
E e degli scrittori minori dell’adolescenza
Ero curioso di questo amore
Come lo sono adesso e
Poi si affacciarono le ombre
E l’amore si fece confuso
E saltavo da un nome all’altro
E mi bruciavo e mi bruciavo
Come chiedeva la strada
Erano quelli gli anni da ardere
Senza rimorsi
Poi scoprii Pessoa e fu amore
al primo rigo.
Mi sono innamorato facile
Una volta all’ultimo piano di una casa torre
Sul fiume. Vivevo a Pisa da tre giorni.
Avevo e mi avevano già rubato una bicicletta
Durò meno di tre giorni come la bicicletta.
A quel tempo ero anche militare.
Mio malgrado. Ho ricordi molto confusi.
Altri amori più vicini_amori che ancora ci amiamo,
certo, in maniera più platonica
Ma che importa. Accadde che mi fecero inciampare in
Carnevali, pedro Pietri, Viktor Cavallo, tre spine. Tre spine
Medio grandi. E poi quegli occhi grandi come due nocciole di un altro mondo.
Avessi potuto dirlo ad alta voce! Poi cominciai una guerra di posizione.
Di trincee. Non mi si addice la trincea. Infatti per anni non un passo avanti.
Ho pensato: se son fiori sfioriranno!
Eppure l’amore è ancora immacolato/nuovo.
E così è stato. Ma volevo parlare di tutt’altro.
Di quando passai ad esempio con Marco, un viandante sulla sessantina di Torino
tutta una notte a cantare vecchie canzoni
Mentre intorno era tutta una festa
Eravamo soli io e lui a costruire castelli di carta e fu bellissimo.
Ciao Marco, ovunque tu sia. Anche quella sera ci innammmmorammo
di chissà cosa o chi. Eravamo nessuno. Come accade solo con l’amore.
Come quando la abbracciai senza baciarla e le dissi: questo è amore puro.
Non ci sono più abituato! E lei mi disse: sì. È così.
Non credo abbia capito. O forse sì. Non lo so.
Non sapevo più chi ero. Così me ne vado per le strade sempre innamorato
e sempre con le spine. Ma a chi lo dici? A te?
No… A nessuno. A nessuno…
Ogni tre passi c’è un amore
Ogni tre passi mi allontano da un amore
Ogni tre passi dico sottovoce il suo nome.
Ma tu vai amore mio a conquistare territori
Va’ ovunque trovi la gioia e l’allegria
Fa’ a cazzotti con l’amore altrui e vinci e perdi
Fosse pure per knock out. Non fa male.
Non fa mai davvero male. Io sarò qui
Senza aspettare niente. Solo per te
E per chiunque altro. Come una puttana per passione.
No, non parlo di sesso.
Certo è chiaro che mi manchi.
Da tremila anni mi manchi.
Manco fossi Guglielma Tell bendata.
Ma così è la vita Amore mio
Ci si innamora facile.

Vista de una recamara desde el jardín delantero, Casa Torres Martínez, av. Tecamachalco 47, Reforma Social, Miguel Hidalgo, Ciudad de México 1949 

Arq. Ramón Torres Martínez

Foto. Guillermo Zamora

View of a bedroom from the front garden, Casa Torres Martinez, av. Tecamachalco 47, Reforma Social, Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City 1949

10

Museo Casa Vilamajó - Montevideo - Uruguay
(By Patrícia F. Almeida)
June, 2016

En Montevideo, hay una esquina
En la esquina,
Una casa
En la casa, una escalera
En la escalera, peldaños
Tangentes
A una habitación

En la habitación hay
Una cómoda
En la cómoda, cajones
En los cajones, objectos
En los objetos, un hombre
Arquitecto
Habitante de la casa

Alicia Torres Corral