On the first day of Paris Couture Week, Balenciaga announced that they would be returning to couture fashion in July 2020. After a fifty-two-year hiatus, the artistic director Demna Gvasalia has chosen to restart the production of couture fashion for the first time since the closing of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s atelier in 1968. In a statement to the press, Gvasalia cited the return was an act of creative and visionary duty: ‘For me, couture is an unexplored mode of creative freedom and a platform for innovation. It not only offers another spectrum of possibilities in dressmaking, but also brings the modern vision of Balenciaga back to its sources of origin. Couture is above trends. It’s an expression of beauty on the highest aesthetic and qualitative levels.”
Cristóbal Balenciaga is often remembered as one of the greatest couturiers in the world. Revered by many of his contemporaries, Christian Dior described him as “the master of us all”. Balenciaga’s designs, of which the famous cocoon coat or bubble skirt are two, are characterized by spare and sculptural forms. His unique shapes and silhouettes revolutionized women’s fashion during the 1950s and 1960s and still continue to have influence on fashion design today.
In order to understand the significance of Balenciaga’s return to couture, a look back at the history of the fashion house is important. Founded in 1937, the brand opened in Paris on Avenue Georges V, after the Spanish Civil War causedBalenciaga to flee from his native country. The designer’s loose silhouettes, such as his ‘sack’ dress, offered an alternative to the intrinsically feminine, hour-glass shape of Dior’s ‘New Look’ and the designer quickly gained popularity amongst aristocrats and celebrities alike. With followers in both France and the United States, buyers thought nothing of risking their safety to return to the capital to buy his clothes.
However, the designer unexpectedly closed the fashion house in 1968 before passing away suddenly in 1972.
Over a decade after Balenciaga’s death, the label was resurrected in 1986 and began to focus on ready-to-wear collections. A variety of notable designers have served as creative director since then, (Nicolas Ghesquière is now the creative director of Louis Vuitton). After taking over from Alexander Wang in 2016, Gvasalia sought to modernize Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original sketches for the contemporary age. Stating that the designs should be remembered for their volume rather than their decoration, Another Magazine described Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear show as a ‘viral’ social media moment: ‘Couture-like in their splendor, the dresses referenced some of Cristóbal’s original couture shapes’ with a series of ball gowns that formed the collection’s final looks. This offers us an exciting glimpse of what might come in July with the revival of Balenciaga’s haute couture.
Ultimately the return of Balenciaga to couture demonstrates how the past, present and future are merged together by a fashion house universally recognized for their contribution to both street wear and couture.
AnOther Magazine, ‘Balenciaga Is Returning to Haute Couture’ https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12189/balenciaga-will-return-to-haute-couture-half-a-century-after-cristobal
Harper’s Bazaar, ‘Balenciaga is returning to couture after more than 50 years’, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/fashion/fashion-news/a30596039/balenciaga-couture/
Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Introducing Cristóbal Balenciaga’, https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-cristobal-balenciaga
WWD, ‘Balenciaga to Return to Couture in July’, https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/balenciaga-returning-couture-paris-1203442133/