When I think of Balenciaga, I think of two people. Cristóbal Balenciaga, a fellow Spaniard and the founder of the fashion house, and Nicolas Ghesquière, the designer who reinvented the house in 1997 at the young age of 25.
Last month Ghesquière announced his departure after 15 years as Creative Director, and Alexander Wang was chosen as his successor. They say that success is never final, but failure can be – which sums up anyone’s career in fashion. You’re only as only good as your last show. So it’s with bated breath that I’m anticipating Wang’s first collection for Balenciaga. Will he triumph or fail in his new position?
It’s a new era, and I for one am expecting this luxury label to continue its success. But first, let’s take a look at Balenciaga’s revolutionary style.
Vintage footage from Balenciaga
In the early 1930’s Cristóbal Balenciaga, having had formal training as a tailor in Madrid, established himself as a couturier for the royal family and aristocrats of Spain. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 he was forced to close his operations because of the ensuing political turmoil.
He moved to Paris and opened his first couture house in 1937, setting his sights on establishing himself as a fashion designer on the global stage. In the early 1950s he created a shapeless style of dressing, which soon became his signature. As part of his softened silhouette he developed the Chemise dress – where he broadened the shoulders and loosened the waistline. That design established him as a member of fashion royalty.
“Cristobal Balenciaga was a master couturier, inspired by his rich Spanish culture – from religion and art to bullfighting, he left a legacy for new talents around the world”
-Gabriel Rivera-Barraza of GRB communications
Balenciaga closed his fashion house in 1968 at the age of 74 after working in Paris for 30 years. The brand remained on the sideline of fashion until 1997 when Ghesquière arrived.
Nicolas Ghesquière started his career in fashion doing several internships with noted French designers while in high school, and eventually landed a position as an assistant designer to Jean Paul Gaultier. That lead to his first position at Balenciaga as head of licensing affiliates for Asian markets. In 1997 he was promoted to Creative Director. His designs were as innovative as Balenciaga’s, while pushing his silhouettes forward through a masterful understanding of prints, and innovative seaming.
Dresses from Ghesquière’s Acclaimed 2008 Spring/Summer Collection for Balenciaga
I love when a fashion house that has lost its cache reinvents itself, to me that is what fashion is all about. It’s ever-changing, always looking forward with just a peek into the past. That sense of history informing the future is one of the many reasons I love fashion.
These images brilliantly illustrate the idea. On the left are original designs from Balenciaga himself in the late ’60’s, while on the right are contemporary interpretations by Ghesquière.
Now for the next chapter, and a bit of background on Alexander Wang’s career.
Alexander Wang started his fashion career after dropping out in his sophomore year from Parson school of Design. He showed his first collection in 2007. His sense of styling is ‘downtown rocker chic’ pulling inspiration from Parisian street style.
He grew the line into a complete ready to wear label that’s been sold in top department stores and boutiques around the world, and has since opened his own store in New York’s Soho neighborhood.
I’ve watched this video of Wang’s Spring/Summer 2103 show several times now, trying to spot some of the ideas that might show up in his collection for Balenciaga next year. His shapeless style, the shirts and jackets, and his cut-out woven and leather pieces might be part of the reason he was chosen for his new position. One things for certain, I’ll be there front row center to report back here on cjdellatore.com. Stay tuned.