Spanish couturier who became one of the leading international designers of haute couture in the 1940s and 1950s.
Balenciaga was born in a Basque village on the Bay of Biscay, where his father was a fisherman. A boyhood interest in sewing, encouraged by his mother, was turned to a source of income following his father's death. His first patron was a local aristocrat, the Marquesa de Casa Torres, who commissioned Balenciaga to make her a dress. After studying tailoring in San Sebastián, he started his own business there, moving to Madrid in 1932. The Spanish civil war of 1937 forced him to leave for Paris, where he opened premises in the prestigious Avenue George V.
Specializing in individually tailored and fitted designs, Balenciaga produced garments noted for their simplicity and boldness of design. His collections of the early 1950s contributed to the move away from the tightly waisted New Look originated by Christian Dior to a looser semi-fitted style. This culminated in Balenciaga's tunic dress of 1955 and his 1957 chemise, which in the hands of his protégé, Hubert de Givenchy, became known as the ‘sack’. Always a retiring man, Balenciaga closed his business in 1968. However, shortly before his death in 1972 he accepted, as his final commission, the design of the wedding dress for Franco's grand-daughter, Maria del Carmen Franco.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).