The original king of haute couture: Cristóbal Balenciaga

"Elegance is elimination"


By Wei Yeen Loh

The original king of haute couture: Cristóbal Balenciaga

Think of master couturiers from the late 20th century, and the big names come to mind-from Christian Dior who began the New Look revolution in the 1940s to Hubert de Givenchy and his iconic little black dress that is a classic till this day. But did you know that Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga was respected by fellow designers Givenchy, Dior and Coco Chanel for his innovative designs that were also revered by socialites and royalty?


Balenciaga was born in 1895 and grew up learning to sew alongside his mother, who was a seamstress. After completing his formal training at a notable tailoring school in Madrid, he opened his own atelier in 1917 at the age of 22(!) and later on presented his first haute couture collection in 1936 to overwhelming praise from the press and clientele.

Experimenting with fluidity and volume was his forte, as like his pupil Givenchy, he disregarded fitted, corseted silhouettes and went for voluminous, sack-like dresses. Fun fact: the baby doll dress was actually created by Balenciaga himself, alongside the peacock-tail dress that featured a longer back hemline than the front. We can’t thank the couturier enough for shapeless dresses that are all the rage today—a dress really isn’t a dress unless it is a work of art, in his case, and who needs waistlines anyway?

Another reason why Balenciaga is hailed as the master couturier? He was perhaps the only designer in fashion history at that time who was able to design, cut and fit his creations onto models—a skill that highlighted his technique and perfectionism. Balenciaga constantly innovated his designs, choosing to use heavy fabrics and intricate embroideries. From delicate lace to abstract florals, he never once steered away from the predictable.

While new creative directors of today have brought on a significant wave of modern aesthetic, there’s nothing quite like Cristóbal Balenciaga’s legacy, having inspired a slew of modern-day designers from Oscar de la Renta to André Courrèges. After all, his perspective on his craft made all the sense in the world: “A woman doesn’t need to be perfect or beautiful in order to wear one of my dresses, the dress will do it for her.”


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