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Hip like never before: Balenciaga fashion icon

Madrid (AP) – Big celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa, Kanye West and Elliot Page wear “him,” and even the Simpsons have fallen in love with his charm. Legendary fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga died 50 years ago on March 23, 1972, but the brand founded by the Spaniard more than a century ago is back in fashion today like almost no other.

The company was still in danger of falling into insignificance in the mid-1990s. In the meantime, however, the brand, which has belonged to the French luxury group Kering since 2001, has even replaced Gucci as the most coveted label and “hot” on the planet, according to the latest surveys of the influential British fashion portal Lyst. .

Son of a fisherman and a seamstress

The boom has a few reasons ranging from Kardashian to Ukraine to anti-war statements. But first things first: Cristóbal Balenciaga was born into poor circumstances on January 21, 1895, as the fifth son of a fisherman and a seamstress in the Basque city of Getaria, in northern Spain.

In the town of 1,300 inhabitants, the boy was enthusiastic about his mother’s work. He participated and was encouraged by Mama’s boss, Margravine Casa Torres. At 16 he was a professional. And in 1917, at the age of 22, he founded the Balenciaga company in San Sebastián.

The most influential ladies in Spain were among his clients at the time. A tragic event indirectly helped him achieve his breakthrough: Balenciaga moved to France due to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). He conquered Paris and dominated the golden age of haute couture.

movie star designers

The designer has dressed movie superstars including Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn, as well as designed for philanthropist Mona von Bismarck and First Lady Jackie Kennedy. He also designed the wedding dress for Belgian Queen Fabiola.

With his pioneering craftsmanship, Balenciaga revolutionized the world of fashion in the 1950s. As an inventor, he gave the female silhouette new forms, including bowler sleeves, balloon skirts, sack dresses and baby-doll dresses. The avant-garde and mysterious “King of Haute Couture” did not grant interviews. Therefore, few statements are passed on from him. But he is reported to have once said, “A woman doesn’t have to be perfect or beautiful to wear my dresses. Her dress will do her work for her.”

Christian Dior: “Champion of us all”

Later fashion legends such as Oscar de la Renta, Hubert de Givenchy and Emanuel Ungaro began their careers in his studios. None other than Christian Dior described Balenciaga as the “master of us all”, Coco Chanel revered him as the “only real couturier”. And de Givenchy was quoted by The New York Times as saying, “Balenciaga was my religion.”

But the man who had the fashion world at his feet for decades did not have happy years at the end of his life. Deeply disappointed that ready-to-wear was increasingly displacing haute couture, the tortoiseshell-glasses wearer closed his Parisian company in 1968 after 31 years and said goodbye to the world of fashion. He only interrupted his retirement once: in 1972 he designed a wedding dress for the wedding of Carmen Martínez-Bordiú, the granddaughter of dictator Francisco Franco. Just a few days later, he died of a heart attack while on vacation in the coastal town of Jávea, in eastern Spain.

And then Nicolas Ghesquière arrived

Virtually only kept alive by the perfume division, the Balenciaga brand languished for roughly a quarter of a century. Until Frenchman Nicolas Ghesquière took over as chief designer in 1997, returning Balenciaga to the top of Parisian fashion houses with luxury streetwear like leggings, cargo pants and sporty stilettos.

After a three-year stint under Alexander Wang, Demna Gvasalia was appointed as the new creative director in 2015. The German-Georgian from Düsseldorf did better. The fashion rebel, who constantly breaks with traditional codes, made Balenciaga, with its so-called ugly style, the over-label, the favorite brand of fashion-conscious millennials and also the still very young Generation Z.

“Sock sneakers were totally in fashion at our Othmarschen high school a few years ago, you saw them everywhere in the schoolyard, even though they cost at least 700 euros,” a 17-year-old told German media. from the rich west of Hamburg. Agency. Right now, Triple S sneakers are particularly popular.

Among other things, Demna caused a stir with her platform-soled, high-heeled Crocs and her gender-neutral creations. But not only with that. The 40-year-old is one of the few still trying to get the fashion world out of his own bubble.

Sign against the war in Ukraine

Last fall he had the famous cartoon family of Homer, Bart and Maggie Simpson present their new collection in a special episode at Paris Fashion Week. And about two weeks ago, Demna, who fled to Germany from the civil war in Georgia at the age of twelve, was the first to take a stand in Paris against the Ukraine war. He paraded his models in a storm of artificial snow, some with plastic bags in hand. The bold and innovative Balenciaga would have applauded.

In Getaria, where the designer is buried, the Balenciaga Museum, founded in 2011, has announced several exhibitions and special events to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. The Disney+ streaming service is making a series about the Basques.

But the biggest appreciation probably came from Demna. With her fall-winter 2021-2022 collection, she brought haute couture back home after more than half a century. He sees this move as his “creative duty to Mr. Balenciaga’s unique legacy.”

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