Best known as the master of haute couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga has had a major impact on style and sophistication since the creation of his first fashion house in 1917. He trademarked the “bubble skirt” and developed a knack for creating feminine, ultra-modern, and sometimes avant-garde designs. His haute couture pieces are not just clothing for the well-dressed but majestic artworks, which are finally on display. The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa opened this past month in Getaria, a city in the Basque country of Spain. While not associated with fashion capitols such as Milan or Paris, the town is the most suited for this type of homage as it is Balenciaga’s hometown and where his grave is located.
The designer was greatly influenced by the surroundings of his hometown. His mother was a seamstress for the aristocracy and his father, a modest fisherman, drove boats for the royal family. He was constantly exposed to the regality of high society and the humble practicality of his parents. “Balenciaga is the essence of Spain,” Estrella Archs told the New York Times, who is concentrating on her own label after a brief stint at Ungaro. “There is a side that is very rustic and a side very sophisticated about Spain,” she said. “His work was sophisticated and very pure — his modernity was about being very simple, with a very Spanish modesty and pride.”
The building in which the collection and memorandum are held is a breathtaking structure built atop a hill with a sweeping view of Getaria’s landscape. It is symbolically built, next to the Palacio Aldamar, which is as the residence of the Marqués and Marquesa of Casa Torres, mentors to Balenciaga during the early days of his career. There are exquisite tinted-glass walls and an iron tracery of flowers, reminiscent of the magnificent embroidery on the designer’s evening wear. The museum cost upwards of $43 million, funded by the state in hopes of encouraging tourism in Getaria. At the opening of the museum last week, Queen Sofía of Spain gave the royal seal of approval while Spanish high society came to support the brilliant couturier and even donated garments to the collection.
The permanent exhibition is divided up and presented in 6 galleries – Early Years, Day, Cocktail, Evening, Brides and Essential Balenciaga. The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa collection consists of approximately 1200 pieces including the legendary mink-trimmed wedding gown of Queen Fabiola of Belgium in addition to the wedding gown of Mrs. Díez de Rivera. The building houses an instructive room, where Balenciaga’s complex masterworks are digitally deconstructed and put back together on videos. Throughout the museum, there are images of the designer at work and at play.Balenciaga is not just an idol for the current Spanish generation; he is a global fashion legend who finally has a well-deserved shrine.