Monday, 21 January 2013

birthday of a master

The Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga was born on this day, 21 January, in 1895 in the town of Guetaria, in the Basque region of Spain. He retired in May 1968 and died of heart attack on the 23rd of March 1972. It is not my intention to write Balenciaga's life story in this post, but to share some of my favourite pages and quotes from the beautiful book Balenciaga and Spain by Hamish Bowles. (See details at the bottom.)
For three fecund decades, from 1937 until 1968, Cristóbal Balenciaga honed and perfected the art and craft of the haute couture from his monastic ateliers on the avenue George V in the heart of fashionable Paris. His fascination with the properties of cloth–its cut, construction, and embellishment–and his inventive responses to its possibilities established him from the beginning as a master of his métier (to use his preferred term). ( p. 15)
from the introduction of Balenciaga and Spain

When viewing Balenciaga's design it is quite extraordinary to think that he was mainly self-taught. One of the things he did to teach himself the mastery of dressmaking was buying clothes from the couturiers in Paris and adapting them. He was only nineteen years old when he started his own business in San Sebastián; at the age of twenty-one he had begun dressing members of the Spanish royal family.
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel described her friend Balenciaga as "the only couturier. He is the only one who knows how to cut a fabric, and mount it and sew it with his own hands. The others are just draughtsmen." (p. 19)
from the introduction of Balenciaga and Spain
- Coco Chanel quoted in Gloria Emerson,
'Balenciaga, the Couturier, Deat at 77', New York Times, 23 March 1972

Balenciaga fled Spain when the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) started. First he went to London and then to Paris where he established his couture house.
Balenciaga believes that an elegant woman does not necessarily wear the latest style, but dresses in a manner becoming to herself, choosing clothes of good material and cut which she wears for several years, changing accessories to make them up-to-date. She never wears clothes that are conspicuous or uncomfortable, is never dominated by fashion, but uses it to express her own personality. (p. 19)
from the introduction of Balenciaga and Spain
quote from 'Balenciaga—and the Art of Making Elegant Clothes', Women's Wear Daily, 9 July 1948, p. 26

Every time I tried to take a photo of Lipnitzki's photo of Balenciaga my younger daughter's Persian kitten was in the way. In the end I just gave up and allowed her to be a model.

photo credit:
Lisa Hjalt
from the book Balenciaga and Spain by Hamish Bowles:
1: Joan Miró Painting (Blue), 1927 + photo by Hiro, winter 1967, p. 80-81 / 2: photo by Richard Avedon, winter 1950, p. 101 / 3: studio drawing, winter 1957, p. 55 / 4: ca. 1948 + Bullfighters, early 20th century, photo by José Ortiz-Echagüe, p. 168-169 / 5: studio drawing, winter 1957, p. 230 / 6: photo by Irving Penn, winter 1967, p. 69 / 7: photo by David Bailey, summer 1957 + El mundo de Balenciaga exhibition catalogue cover, by Joan Miró, 1974, p. 74-75 / 8 + 9: photo by Boris Lipnitzki, France 1927, p. 14


  1. Oh Lisa what a beautiful tribute to an amazing designer! And what an adorable kitty!

  2. This is still one of my most cherished books. The kitten is adorable!

  3. What a wonderful post - so informative - I didn't know he was mainly self-taught. The gowns are exquisite!

  4. Balenciaga was a genius, one of my favorites. I also love the Balenciaga Maison nowadays but I'm not sure about what he would think if see the current designs with his name.
    Your sister's cat is irresistible!

  5. Lisa, ok, ok, Balenciaga was a great designer, but you have a cat and did not say anything until now? And a Persian one, just like me!? She is so cute even if I do not see her face, I can only imagine it. I like when you disclose part of the books you read. Balenciaga and Spain is on my list,too!

  6. Thank you for sharing this beautiful's certainly one I will be purchasing for my collection of fashion books...I LOVE your Persian kitten ;-)
    Thank you for popping by today and leaving such a lovely comment; I really appreciate it.
    Have a great week.

  7. awwww you have a cat? how cute is that...! :)

  8. Hi Lisa! What a wonderful post. Balenciaga was a master and so interesting to hear that he was self taught. I had no idea. I also loved reading Coco's thoughts about him.

    Hope you are doing well and having a lovely 2013! xoxo

  9. sounds and looks like a book worth reading. happy belated birthday, mr balenciaga!


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