Disney's Cristóbal Balenciaga reveals the ability, politics and drama of high fashion

Born at the top of the nineteenth century in a small Basque fishing village on the northern coast of Spain, Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972) became one of the modern and influential fashion designers of the Twentieth century – and the king of fashion in Paris.

His dedication to tailoring was encouraged by his mother, a seamstress, and recognized by the local Spanish aristocracy, who recognized his talents. The patronage of a Marquesa led to an apprenticeship as a tailor in San Sebastián, where he opened his first tailor shop in 1919 on the age of 24 and later a studio in Madrid.

A dark-haired man in a smart suit.
Cristobal Balenciaga.
Louise Dahl-Wolfe, 1950 / Wikipedia, CC BY

His impeccable fit and exceptional skills in cutting, assembling, constructing and sewing garments by hand earned him a uniquely respected position within the high fashion world of Paris, where he opened his shop Maison in 1937.

Balenciaga's life and work are currently being explored in a six-part Spanish biographical drama At Disney+. The series chronicles the story of the person who became generally known as “The Master.” Haute Couture Fashion for his modern womenswear designs and distinctive use of textiles during his years in Paris, from 1937 to 1968.

Alberto San Juan stars as Balenciaga in the brand new Disney series. The designer recalls the events of his life and profession during a rare 1971 interview with Times fashion editor Prudence Glynn (Gemma Whelan).

Fashion for a post-war world

We meet Balenciaga in 1937, a 12 months after he assumed the coveted elite status of “couturier” bestowed by America’s exacting standards Chamber of the Paris Couture Union. Balenciaga's tailoring and modern designs were crucial to the success and lasting impact of mid-Twentieth century high fashion – a fact rigorously portrayed within the series.

A 1960s style red and white silk dress on a dress form.
Printed silk dress from Balenciaga (1960).
Cristobal Balenciaga Museum / Wikipedia.

While artistic license embellishes intimate and emotional moments within the series, it is basically historically accurate, including the relationships and rivalries between other couturiers Coco channel (Anouk Grinberg), Christian Dior (Patrice Thibaud) and the care of Hubert de Givenchy (Adrien Dewitte).

When Balenciaga's nervous investor visits Chanel in episode two – The Occupation – and asks whether the designer can reach Parisian high fashion, she answers clearly: “Cristóbal is the only authentic couturier among us.” Otherwise, we’re easy just fashion designers.”

The series follows the turbulent political and economic times for fashion within the mid-Twentieth century. Designers had to guard their repute and artistic integrity from invading armies and company spies. Meanwhile, the artisanal couture traditions of fashion design needed to contend with the rise and expansion of mass production able to wear (Ready-to-wear) fashion.

An exciting element of Balenciaga's influence on couture was his inspired use of traditional Spanish clothing in addition to Catholic vestments and regalia, which he incorporated into his collections.

In episodes one and two, we watch as he struggles to define his Maison's style until he revisits his historical art and costume books for inspiration. This commitment with the cultural memory of clothingreveals that his creations have authenticity, meaning and depth that come from his Spanish roots.

A cream and black silk and organza evening dress.
Balenciaga silk taffeta and organza evening dress (1951).
Philadelphia Museum of Art / Laura Blanchard / Wikipedia

Christian Dior famously referred to Balenciaga as “the master of us all,” and the Spaniard was admired by fashion journalists, critics, customers, collaborators and his colleagues in high fashion circles for his technical genius and innovation.

The emerging ready-to-wear designers, lots of whom he mentored, translated his design principles into their luxury, mass-produced clothing lines, including Givenchy, Andre Courreges And Emanuel Ungaro.

Hard work and fervour

This is a series written, directed and artistically designed by individuals who respect the place of ideas, skill and innovation within the practice of constructing designed objects. The magic of Balenciaga is predicated on a driven, tireless dedication to an art form. Everywhere we see hands, tools, textiles being manipulated, cut, folded, sewn, adjusted and at last shaped right into a body able to be seen and ultimately sold.

This is an exceptional aspect of this series and a joy to observe. In the last episode – I’m Balenciaga – the Spaniard deals with the longer term of couture and his maison against the booming ready-to-wear background. He realizes that one in every of his options is to step away and hand the reins to a trusted associate. However, he explains: “It wasn't just a business, it was a part of me, like an extension of my body. How can a body survive without a brain?”

Woman in black suit with flared bell sleeves and knee-length skirt sits on a pedestal and presses her right hand against the wall
Cristóbal Balenciaga vintage suit, 1951.
Bianca Lee/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Another interesting aspect of the series is the growing power of the media to influence the pace of change in fashion markets. An essential character in all the series is Carmel Snow (Gabrielle Lazure), the style director of the American edition of the influential lifestyle magazine Harper's Bazaar. Snow had the ability to determine the fate of even the best couturiers, because and not using a magazine presence there can be no customer interest or orders.

Interestingly, episode 4 – Replicas – shows the start of the controversy in regards to the current systems of fashion weeks that happen every two yearsto limit press access to regular intimate couture shows at maisons for fear of copies and counterfeits.

This series comes highly beneficial and represents a crucial piece of dramatized fashion history. Because what we wear is a facet of our identity, fashion is at the middle of each on a regular basis and extraordinary events. This series is proof that designing, producing and promoting clothing is at all times related to passion and drama.

image credit : theconversation.com