Balenciaga: The Master
Cristobal Balenciaga was one of the best fashion designers that ever lived. Some even went so far as to say that a woman wearing one of his gowns became the only woman in the world. When fashion designers refer to “The Master”, they can only mean one man – Balenciaga.
From Apprentice to Acclaim
Balenciaga was learning from the very beginning during his childhood in the Basque village of Getaria. Growing up, he was often with his seamstress mother, watching her work. When he was only 12 years old, he became the apprentice of a tailor to learn his craft, and his talent quickly became evident.
He was still in his teens when the preeminent noblewoman in his area noticed his work. She bought his clothing and eventually sent him to Madrid to learn tailoring under some of the greatest masters in Spain. Balenciaga became one of the very few fashion designers who could literally create his own work from design, to pattern making, to sewing.
Once he was ready to begin his business, Balenciaga was truly successful. His first salon was in San Sebastian, opened in 1919. In 1933, he opened two more in Madrid. One of these was operated by his sister from 1948 to 1968. Yet another salon was opened in Barcelona in 1935. Women of great stature would come to Balenciaga for his truly elegant clothing.
San Sebastian, where he opened his first salon, was a place where the wealthy and powerful came to stay – a luxurious seaside resort. When ladies of a certain status were there, many of them would call on Balenciaga to be fitted for one of his gowns, including members of royal families.
The Spanish Civil War forced Balenciaga to move to Paris in 1937, but that did not end his career. In fact, his move to Paris, the heart of fashion, put him in the perfect position to display his first collection there. He was not nearly as famous in Paris as he was in Spain, but his fabulous dresses soon made him an internationally famous designer. English nobility and American women began to order his clothing and everyone knew the name Balenciaga.
This new-found fame was only the beginning. Once World War II was over, Balenciaga truly came into his own, creating styles that are still in use today. After the war, he also began to produce his own line of fragrances with the same elegance as his clothing, starting with Le Dix in 1947, named for the address of his Paris boutique.
The Essence of Balenciaga
Le Dix was a classic, much like Balenciaga’s dress designs. The deep scent of violets pervades this fragrance, made sharp and fresh by the addition of lemon and bergamot. At its heart is ylang-ylang and rose, with aldehydes to soften the floral tones. The base contains vanilla to give the whole and intriguing harmony. This is the sort of scent to be worn in the evening, perhaps for a romantic night, perhaps even while wearing an elegant Balenciaga gown.
The legacy continued after Balenciaga’s passing in 1972, and his name still carries a great deal of weight. There were colognes made to capture what many believe to be the heart of Cristobal Balenciaga, starting with Cristobal in 1998. This spicy, oriental fragrance for women opens with bergamot and fig leaf, with a floral heart of jasmine, peony, and freesia, with a base of patchouli, sandalwood, and vanilla. This woody refreshing fragrance is like the scent of Balenciaga’s creative spark.
Soon after came Cristobal pour Homme, the masculine version of the previous Cristobal perfume. This also had an exotic scent, but with a much more powerful masculine spicy smell. It is meant to evoke thoughts of the nation that was Balenciaga’s home, Spain, with all of its passion and strength. Where the women’s scent has floral elements, this one contains elements of pepper, coffee, and tobacco, for a strong and intense experience.
Ahead of His Time
Balenciaga created a great many works that would become future trends. He was the first to create the jersey dresses, in the 1930s, that would become all the rage in the 1940s. His waistless suits of one year were a standard the next few years. The chemise dresses he created in the 1950s were the sleeveless sheaths every woman wore in the 1960s. He was even partly responsible for the creation of the miniskirt, when he created evening dresses with a knee-length hem.
Though he’s been gone for decades, the spark of his creativity remains, particularly in the fragrances produced in his name. Today, the Balenciaga label is in the able hands of the Gucci group, ensuring that the name of the Master will never fade.