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Balenciaga’s Beautiful Designs and His Massive Influence on Haute Couture

Balenciaga, the master of haute couture, at work

This is the complete story of the camaraderie between Givenchy and Balenciaga. How they exchanged ideas and influenced each other’s work.

In the 1950s, when soon-to-be icons were entering haute couture, among them was an aristocratic French designer. His name was Hubert de Givenchy.

Balenciaga, the master of haute couture, at work
Balenciaga working on a dress

Balenciaga mentored designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Andre Courreges, Emanuel Ungaro, and Givenchy. At one point in time, de la Renta worked as a fashion illustrator but it was Givenchy that was his shining star. All of them opened famous haute couture houses.

Givenchy shaped his aesthetic with the help of Spanish couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga. His mentorship helped him build his vision as a couturier.

Now, let us understand the influence Balenciaga had on the fashion industry, and then his influence on Givenchy.

Cristobal Balenciaga’s Legacy

No stranger to fame and praise, the famously private Balenciaga had an inimitable style. His clothes were elegant and skillfully crafted. Being a great tailor, he could transform his designs on paper into exceptional fashion pieces custom-tailored for clients. He is still revered in fashion circles as the master of haute couture.

In fact, his mother was a seamstress, and he initially studied under her. It was when he went to Madrid to study design and tailoring that everything changed for him.

Cristobal Balenciaga was referred to as the “master of us all” by Dior. His unmistakable silhouette defined the fashion of the 50s. In fact, it defied all conventions of the fashion industry at the time. But it wasn’t until the post-war years that his inventiveness was lauded.

In 1951, he took a creative decision to broaden the shoulders and remove the waistline. In 1955, he dreamed up the tunic dress which later became the chemise dress. The chemise dress is also known as the sack dress. Let us show some haute couture examples from Balenciaga.

Sack Dress by Balenciaga

In 1959, his work culminated in the Empire Line (as shown below.)

The Empire Dress by Cristobal Balenciaga. The highlight of late 50s haute couture.
The Empire Gown by Balenciaga

Bunny Mellon, the famed horticulturist, was full of praise for him. She said that his clothes gave her courage. She famously wore his funnel-shaped gown made of duchess satin; it was a masterpiece of the 1960s.

In fact, Balenciaga’s silhouettes are known for their billowiness. For instance, the famed cocoon coat highlighted feminine and graceful lines. Its curve resembled that of a bulbous egg. Perhaps, it was a metaphor for the birth of new fashion.

The cocoon coat was introduced in the 60s.
The Cocoon Coat by Balenciaga

All in all, Cristobal Balenciaga’s influence in the 50s and 60s is undeniable. He was an inventor who designed beautiful garments. Single-handedly, he remade the frameworks for couture and broke design conventions.

Another highly influential designer was Hubert de Givenchy. Although, one could argue that both of them helped each other in both creative problems and personal battles. Let’s see how they worked with each other.

Confluence of Fashion Designs in Haute Couture

The pair met in 1953, two years after Givenchy opened his couture house. By the 50s, he reached near-collaborator status. He even received credits for helping Balenciaga design his famed sack dress. It had an exuberant and more youthful silhouette at the time that removed the waist. Another innovation in haute couture.

In 1957, both couturiers displayed the shapeless dress. The design had signaled the shift away from highly-structured silhouettes. Here’s Givenchy’s design.

Givenchy's take on the sack dress worn by a slender woman.
Givenchy’s sack dress

Battles Against the Press and Chambre

In 1957, Balenciaga decided to show his collection to the press a day before the clothing retail delivery date. The standard followed by the industry was that of a large window of 4 weeks.

By keeping the press unaware of his garment designs until they were shipped to stores, he hoped to stub out piracy. The press resisted as they could barely manage to cover his work within the print deadlines.

Givenchy firmly stood by Balenciaga’s side, leading to a serious impact on the press coverage of their work during the era. In 1967, both designers came back to the traditional schedule.

Also, Balenciaga refused to join the Chambre Syndicale. He had several reasons. For instance, his value for utmost privacy. Also, he always avoided the press and rejected the strict guidelines of the body.

Some of these guidelines were: displaying two collections each year, producing 75 brand-new, authentic designs of day and evening wear for each collection, and having 20 full-time workpeople at the atelier.

Givenchy was the lone designer to side with Balenciaga’s decision. One of the consequences of this was that Balenciaga’s designs weren’t protected from counterfeiting. Hence, he took extreme measures to ensure authenticity in the market.

How Did Balenciaga Influence Givenchy’s Designs?

Givenchy was officially never Balenciaga’s apprentice. Instead, the elder couturier chose to become his mentor, guiding him in business and aesthetics.
In the early 1960s, fashion critics complained that Givenchy relied too heavily on Balenciaga’s distinct approach to couture. Nonetheless, both became immensely successful. Each had faithful clientele in France and the United States. Shown below are two coats designed by both of them.

Coats designed by Givenchy and Balenciaga
Givenchy and Balenciaga in one design

The one on the left is by Givenchy, and the other in violet is by Cristobal Balenciaga. It is a testament to the fact that both designers learnt from each other. Although, Givenchy’s respect for Balenciaga was unmatched. The master taught the student in return for his immense support through tough times.

I’ll end this article with a quote.

There’s Balenciaga, and the good Lord.

Hubert de Givenchy

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