Balenciaga revolutionized fashion in the 1950s with its pioneering craftsmanship. As the inventor, he gave the female silhouette new forms, including bowler sleeves, balloon skirts, sack dresses and baby-doll dresses. The avant-garde, mysterious “king of haute couture” gave no interviews. Few statements are therefore handed down from him. But he is said to have once said, “A woman doesn’t have to be perfect or beautiful to wear my dresses. The dress will do the work for her.”
Later fashion legends such as Oscar de la Renta, Hubert de Givenchy and Emanuel Ungaro started their careers in his studios. None other than Christian Dior called Balenciaga 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 because prêt-à-porter was increasingly crowding out haute couture, the horn-rimmed spectacles wearer closed his Parisian company in 1968 after 31 years and said goodbye to the fashion world. He only interrupted his retirement once: in 1972 he designed a wedding dress for the wedding of Carmen Martínez-Bordiú, a granddaughter of dictator Francisco Franco. Just a few days later, he died of a heart attack while on vacation in the eastern Spanish seaside resort of Jávea.
Back to success with luxury streetwear
Practically only kept alive by the perfume division, the Balenciaga brand languished for about a quarter of a century. Until the Frenchman Nicolas Ghesquière took over as chief designer in 1997 and brought Balenciaga back to the leading ranks of Parisian fashion houses with luxury streetwear such as leggings, cargo pants and sports stilettos. After a three-year stint by Alexander Wang, Demna Gvasalia was appointed as the new creative director in 2015. The German-Georgian from Düsseldorf went one better. The fashion rebel, who constantly breaks with traditional codes, made Balenciaga with his so-called “Ugly Style” an over-label, the favorite brand of fashion-conscious Millennials and also the still very young Generation Z.
“A few years ago, at our Othmarschen high school, sock sneakers were totally in. You could see them everywhere in the schoolyard, even though they cost at least 700 euros,” said a 17-year-old from the wealthy west of Hamburg. At the moment, the Triple-S sneakers are particularly popular. Among other things, Demna caused a stir with his Crocs with platform soles and high heels and his gender-unspecific creations. But not only with that. The 40-year-old is one of the few who keeps trying to pull the fashion world out of its own bubble.