Vintage Lovin’: Cristobal Balenciaga – The Artist

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One of my favourite designers of all time is Cristobal Balenciaga. I absolutely love him! His dedication toward his talent and craft is incomparable. He should be described as an artist rather than a designer, really. In fact, my other favourite designer which you probably know by now: Hubert de Givenchy, is actually his biggest fan and admirer. Just to give you a glimpse of his value system, he was so completely focused in his craft that he stayed away from any form of publicity. Consistently refusing to be even photographed by the press, he gave only one interview in his lifetime and even that a couple of years after his retirement.

I often feel the urge to ramble on and on about him, but find the task daunting. The reason? Well, I find it is impossible to render him justice. Seriously, how do you truly encapsulate his talent and his understanding of a woman in words? Yeah, I don’t know either… so, I always, ALWAYS shy away from it.

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This is why, I conceived the idea of simply providing quotes and excerpts from individuals who, I believe, have made commentary that is credible enough in truly describing the man.

“..the Master of us all… Haute couture is like an orchestra, whose conductor is Balenciaga, we other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the directions he gives.” – Christian Dior

“Balenciaga is a couturier in the truest sense of the word. Only he is capable of cutting material, assembling a creation, and sewing it by hand. The others are simply fashion designers.” – Coco Chanel

“Balenciaga was my religion,… Since I’m a believer, for me there’s Balenciaga and the good Lord.” – Hubert de Givenchy

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Here’s an excerpt from an incredible review by Benjamin Schwartz who contrasted Balenciaga with his rival/competitor of the 40s and 50s, Dior. I definitely think Dior is an amazing designer in his own right and you may or may not agree with what is said about him. What I really want is to share the rich information on Balenciaga, I find that the review has aptly captured his work ethic, artistic views and the reason behind why he was and is revered by legendary designers and clients alike.

Repeatedly offered a fortune to develop a prêt à porter line, he invariably answered: “I shall never prostitute my art.” A man once rumored not to exist, he can never be the subject of the kind of chatty, conventional biography Pochna has written of Dior.

Dior, a charming if exceedingly plain-looking dilettante, came to couture late and by chance through his skill as a draftsman. Whereas a joshing glamour characterized the atmosphere at the House of Dior, silence and intense concentration governed the House of Balenciaga. “It was like entering a convent of nuns drawn from the aristocracy,” Marie-Louise Bousquet, the Paris editor of Harper’s Bazaar, remembered. It’s often facilely argued that Dior’s and Balenciaga’s strikingly different styles—the former fanciful, the latter austere—sprang from the designers’ opposing temperaments. It would be more accurate to say that the differences emerged from their opposing approaches to their craft. For Dior, the dress evolved from sketches; for Balenciaga, it evolved from the fabric (an indifferent sketcher, he would often design by draping cloth over his models’ bodies). Dior made the fabric conform to his vision, by having his workrooms stiffen, line, and back the cloth using the traditional methods of dressmaking; Balenciaga’s innovations in cutting techniques allowed him to respect the fabric’s inherent qualities.

Most important, behind the differences in their conceptions of design lay profound differences in their conceptions of women. An intensely romantic and nostalgic vision of femininity impelled Dior’s New Look. But that Platonic ideal required a notorious if finely crafted armature—padded hips, underwire bustiers, horsehair petti­coats, girdles, and built-in corsetry. To achieve the pretty, youthful “new softness,” women reshaped their bodies to fit the requirements of the dress. One model told Snow: “It is the most amazing dress I have ever seen. I can’t walk, eat, or even sit down.” In contrast, one of Balenciaga’s “absolute pronouncements,” as Givenchy recalls in an essay in the recently published collection Balenciaga and His Legacy, was “The dress follows the woman’s body; it’s not the woman’s body that follows the dress.” He designed for a time and a society in which young women strove to look 20 years older, a time that valued attributes that came only after 35: a sense of style and an intelligent beauty dependent on what the great fashion writer Kennedy Fraser called “a kind of nerve-end understanding that life is often very sad.” His garments, in their legendary range of grays, browns, and blacks, and influenced by the clean lines of ecclesiastical dress, were supremely beautiful, never pretty. They weren’t for the undeveloped, for they projected assertiveness, authority, and sexuality. His streamlined styles—the tunic, the chemise, the empire—flattered both the svelte and those with curves and a stomach (“M. Balenciaga likes a little stomach,” one of his fitters famously said), since they overlooked the waist. With wit and a graceful, vaguely exotic convex line, his elegant, superlatively comfortable “semi-fitted” suit—his most- imitated creation—banished Dior’s wasp waist. His shift barely skimmed a woman’s body; his barrel dress enveloped it. His skirts, usually somewhat gathered into the waistband at the front, accommodated no-longer-flat stomachs. What Yves Saint Laurent defined as “the ease of Balenciaga” was based on what was universally recognized to be his unrivaled knowledge of the female body (“he builds clothes for the Woman, not for the Headlines,” Snow wrote)—a fact that makes his clothes deeply erotic, especially for the woman wearing them.

As his friend and Vogue’s fashion editor, the high-born and high-minded Bettina Ballard, wrote, “His life is his work … It rarely seems to give him a sense of fulfillment, as it never reaches the perfection he desires.” For all his Gallic charm, Dior had no interest in women, the cynosure of his career. He was interested in publicity, and so hired only young, beautiful models. Balenciaga’s art emerged from his sympathy with women. He knew, for instance, that he had three generations of women to dress, and so always had some older models.

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OUFFF!! Didn’t you love the review? Balenciaga made masterpieces for real womanly bodies. He understood the concept of feeling gorgeous in your own skin. His creative standpoint directly speaks to my aesthetic values – assertive yet beautiful coupled with being strong and effortless. This is most likely why I love clothes with touches of masculinity that only further highlight the femininity of a lady. Balenciaga’s clothes were made with the sentiment of empowering a woman. They were always wearable AND beautiful, which unfortunately is not a reality for many designers even to this day and age. What an iconic artist! Hope you enjoyed the post.

Love,

CharLee

PS: Don’t the models in Balenciaga attire look like independent boss-ladies who can kickass all day every day while remaining elegant and effortlessly beautiful, all at the same time?! LOVE IT!! Also, I apologize for such a wordy post, Angels! As true lovers of fashion though, I am absolutely certain that you didn’t mind one bit.;)

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