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From Cristóbal To Demna

The Balenciaga name is a name rich in tradition known for revolutionizing the fashion industry like no other as well as questioning the conventional understanding of silhouettes and aesthetics. Read more about the brand’s founder and his current legacy below.
By Clara Virieux

Referred to as the « master of us all » by Christian Dior himself, Cristóbal Balenciaga has long been regarded as one of the 20th century’s most influential designers. With his mother working as a seamstress, Balenciaga became infatuated with the art of fashion at a young age. In 1917 and at the age of 22, he opened his first store in San Sebastian, Spain. Twenty years later, he presented his first collection in Paris to exceptional critical acclaim.

Throughout the entirety of his career, his perfectionism and obsession for refinement allowed him to gradually move toward simple, purer shapes by way of ever-more innovative techniques. Prioritizing fluid lines, Balenciaga envisioned clothes as ornate decorations meant to caress the body, not constrain it.

As the undisputed dominant force of the 1950s, this decade brought forth a transformed silhouette complete with broadened shoulders and the absence of a defined waistline. The sartorial landscape of Paris’ high society was being turned upside down before their eyes by the likes of a tantalizing, hip-grazing, semi-fitted suit jacket with a loose back.

Forever preoccupied with silhouettes, he introduced the world to the tunic dress in 1955, which he later transformed into the “sack dress.” Daring back then, this dress shape is today’s warm weather essential.

Balenciaga’s sculpturally creative mind awarded women with a new cocktail hour uniform. His preference for thick fabrics and strapless necklines led him to design in 1958 what is known today as the “baby doll” dress. Inspired by children’s clothing, the dress’ carefree cut is accentuated by its voluminous skirt.

A trendsetter in its purest form and continuously experimenting with textiles and harmonious aesthetics, Cristóbal Balenciaga’s personal understanding of elegance guided his balanced approach between simplicity and audacity until his unexpected retirement in 1968.

Succeeding Alexander Wang as creative director, Demna Gvasalia is the driving force behind Balenciaga’s status as today’s ultimate high-fashion cult brand. Appointed in 2015, his first collection was shown in Paris in March 2016.

Seamlessly incorporating couture codes into his streetwear aesthetic, his unorthodox approach to design can be seen in his work over at Vetements, the collective fashion label he founded in 2009 along with his brother and five of his friends.

Thoroughly looking into the brand’s archives, Gvasalia has attempted to create collections only slightly built around Cristóbal Balenciaga’s tentative idea of the modern individual. Prioritizing nonchalance and attitude, Demna chose to transcribe the founder’s signature tailoring in a way no one had thought about before.

At the source of this undeniable revival is Gvasalia’s incredible precision as well as his personal take on contemporary, urban fashion. He knows who his audience is yet he never allows it to limit his creative thinking. With this in mind, his design method of repurposing is easy to comprehend even when it looks out of place.

Turning apparent bad taste into structured garments with tongue-in-cheek details and definite must-have appeal is what the Georgian designer is known and universally admired for. And if one thing is for sure, it’s that wherever Demna goes next, crowds and praises will follow within the second.

As the collections have come and gone, the play on prints and silhouettes became more prominent, more exclusive. The overall aesthetic took a turn for the darker, the more exciting. It could officially be said that Gvasalia had developed his own Balenciaga-an creative vision.

Below, shop a few of our favorites from his latest collection: