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A Comparison of Old and New : Balenciaga


Bang Creative Director Derek shot by Matty Parks for Haus Magazine
Alberta Tiburzi in 'envelope' dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Harper's Bazaar, June 1967. © Hiro 1967


Balenciaga is a fashion house that has been around for nearly a century, and it has undergone many changes throughout its long and illustrious history. The brand was founded by Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga in 1919, and it quickly became known for its avant-garde designs and impeccable craftsmanship. Balenciaga's creations were highly coveted by the elite and the brand quickly rose to prominence in the fashion world.

Photographed by Thomas Kublin
Sack dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga, number 164 from his Spring/Summer 1958 collection © Balenciaga Archives Paris, photograph Thomas Kublin

One of the most defining characteristics of old Balenciaga was its emphasis on structure and silhouette. Balenciaga was a master at creating sculptural and architectural designs that were both elegant and innovative.

He often used luxurious materials such as satin, taffeta, and even developed a more rigid version of silk names "Silk Gazar" to create his signature pieces.

Balenciaga's designs were also known for their exaggerated proportions, with oversized shoulders and voluminous skirts. These bold and daring designs set Balenciaga apart from other fashion houses of the time and solidified its reputation as a leader in the industry.

The brand's runway collections during this time were a reflection of Balenciaga's unique vision and exceptional talent. Each collection was a work of art, with carefully crafted pieces that showcased the designer's mastery of form and structure. The use of luxurious fabrics and intricate detailing further added to the allure of Balenciaga's designs. The brand's iconic 'sack dress' became a staple in many women's wardrobes, with its simple yet elegant silhouette and impeccable tailoring.

© Marcio Madeira
Look #4 Spring Summer RTW 2004

Despite its success, Balenciaga faced financial struggles in the 1960s and eventually closed its doors in 1968. However, the brand's legacy and impact on the fashion industry continued to live on.

In 1997, Balenciaga was revived by designer Nicolas Ghesquière, who was only 25 years old at the time. Ghesquière's appointment as creative director marked a new era for the brand. He brought a fresh and modern perspective to Balenciaga, while still paying homage to the brand's rich history and legacy.

One of the most significant changes that Ghesquière brought to Balenciaga was a departure from the brand's traditional emphasis on structure and silhouette. Instead, he focused on creating more fluid and relaxed designs. This shift was seen in his first runway collection for Balenciaga in 1998, which featured slouchy and oversized jackets paired with slim-fitting pants. Ghesquière's designs were a stark contrast to the structured and tailored pieces that Balenciaga was known for, but they were equally striking and innovative.

Ghesquière's designs also incorporated elements of streetwear and sportswear, which was a departure from the brand's traditionally high-end and luxurious aesthetic. This move was a bold and risky one, but it paid off. Ghesquière's collections were a hit among the fashion elite, and he quickly gained a reputation as one of the most influential designers of his time.

© Monica Feudi
Look #26 Fall 2012 RTW

The brand's runway collections under Ghesquière's direction were a reflection of the changing times. They were edgy, modern, and at times, even controversial. Ghesquière's designs pushed boundaries and challenged traditional notions of fashion. He incorporated elements of technology, like digital prints and futuristic fabrics, into his collections, further solidifying Balenciaga's position as an innovative and forward-thinking brand.

In 2012, Ghesquière departed from Balenciaga, leaving a void that many thought would be difficult to fill. However, the brand's current creative director, Demna Gvasalia, has proven to be a worthy successor. Gvasalia, who was previously known for his work with the edgy and irreverent fashion collective Vetements, has brought a new aesthetic to Balenciaga.

Gvasalia's designs for Balenciaga are a blend of the brand's classic elegance and his own rebellious and unconventional style. He has reimagined the brand's iconic silhouettes and given them a modern and edgy twist. For example, Gvasalia's take on the 'sack dress' features exaggerated sleeves and unconventional fabrics, while still maintaining the simplicity and elegance of the original design.

© Monica Feudi
Look #1 Fall 2016 RTW

Gvasalia's runway collections for Balenciaga have also been known for their use of streetwear and pop culture references. He has incorporated elements of hip-hop and punk into his designs, creating a unique and unexpected juxtaposition with the brand's refined and sophisticated aesthetic. This unexpected fusion has resonated with a younger audience and has helped to bring Balenciaga to the forefront of the fashion world once again.

© Balenciaga : Photos: Balenciaga Couture
Look #58 Fall 2022 Couture Collection

In addition to his boundary-pushing designs, Gvasalia has also made strides in diversifying the brand. He has cast a diverse range of models in his runway shows, challenging the industry's narrow standards of beauty and promoting inclusivity. Gvasalia has also expanded Balenciaga's product range, introducing more affordable options such as logo-emblazoned t-shirts and sneakers, while still maintaining the brand's luxurious and high-end image.

The fashion world was abuzz with excitement and anticipation as news broke that iconic fashion house Balenciaga would be returning to the world of couture. After a 53-year hiatus, the brand's creative director, Demna Gvasalia, announced that they would be reviving their haute couture line for the Fall/Winter 2021 season.

The decision to revive Balenciaga's couture line was not an impulsive one. In fact, it was a carefully thought out and strategic move by Gvasalia, who has been at the helm of the brand since 2015. Gvasalia has been known for his disruptive and unconventional approach to fashion, often blurring the lines between high fashion and streetwear. He has been credited with reviving the brand's image and catapulting it to new heights of popularity among the younger generation. So, it was no surprise when he announced the return of couture, as it aligns perfectly with his vision of pushing boundaries and challenging traditional fashion norms.

With the revival of couture, Balenciaga is not only paying tribute to its founder but also reclaiming its position as a leader in the world of high fashion. The decision to return to couture also reflects the brand's confidence and growth under Gvasalia's creative direction. Balenciaga has seen a surge in popularity and sales in recent years, thanks to Gvasalia's bold and daring designs, which have garnered a cult following among fashion enthusiasts and celebrities alike.

© Balenciaga : Photos: Balenciaga Couture
Look #8 SS RTW 2024

The return to couture also has significant implications for the fashion industry as a whole. In recent years, there has been a shift towards more casual and streetwear-inspired fashion, with many luxury brands focusing on creating more accessible and practical collections. However, with the revival of haute couture, there is a renewed interest and appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into creating these one-of-a-kind pieces. This could potentially inspire other fashion houses to also venture back into the world of couture, bringing back a level of glamour and luxury that has been missing in the industry.

In conclusion, the old and new Balenciaga may seem vastly different on the surface, but they are both rooted in the brand's rich history and legacy. While old Balenciaga was known for its structured and sculptural designs, new Balenciaga under Ghesquière and Gvasalia has embraced a more fluid and modern aesthetic. Despite these changes, both eras of Balenciaga have left an indelible mark on the fashion industry and continue to challenge and inspire designers and fashion lovers alike.

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