Much has been written of Cristóbal Balenciaga – this maestro couturier, for his influence on women’s fashion, redefining the female silhouette and dressing some of the most powerful women of his time including royalty. He also played mentor to some of the most admired and well-known fashion designers of our time such as Oscar de la Renta, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy. However, this master of the fashion world was himself a striking, serious and dapper figure in the style stakes and in our eyes, is worthy of inclusion in our Style Icon series.
Cristóbal Balenciaga was born in a seaside town in Basque country, Spain to a fisherman and a seamstress. Accompanying his mother from the age of 6 whilst she dressed the Marquesa de Casa Torres, by the age of 12 he was working for a tailor and was identified quickly as a highly talented all-rounder for his expert ability to sew, cut, drape and fit his own creations – skills that were revered by fellow designers for the rest of his life. Of Balenciaga, Coco Chanel said he is the only couturier able to design, cut, assemble and sew a dress together entirely by himself. In his early 20’s he established his fashion house in San Sebastian and then followed Barcelona and Madrid. Soon, he could count Spanish Royalty amongst his clientele.
It was in 1937 however, when Cristobal Balenciaga fled Spain during the civil war and established his label in Paris, that he firmly cemented his place in history as ‘The Maestro.’ We named one of our Philippe Perzi Vienna signature shirts after this “Maestro” for the exquisite quality of the Giza 45 cotton, the twill fabric which drapes perfectly and the combination of blue multi-stripes – a confluence of perfection!
Photos of Cristóbal Balenciaga show an austere and faultlessly clothed man who was impeccably groomed and always composed. This image was reflected in his designs and the way he ran his couture house.
Cristóbal Balenciaga was known to have uncompromising standards and for being a stickler for perfection. Much like the quality standards we apply to each and every Philippe Perzi Vienna garment.
Balenciaga never had so much as a hair out of place, slicking back his black locks. A big fan of the double-breasted suit, crisp white shirt and silk tie, Cristóbal’s streamlined and flawless look channeled the perfectionist trait that he injected into his innovative designs.
“Elegance is elimination” – Cristóbal Balenciaga
Cristóbal Balenciaga never owned or wore more than was absolutely necessary and yet somehow he always looked cutting edge. He truly followed the “less is more” rule. Bespoke suits, crisp white shirts, a tie and pocket square – all in a monochrome palate, epitomized pure class, effortless style and elegance. A philosophy that is inherent within Philippe Perzi Vienna – and can be seen in the smallest of details, such as our choice of French plackets, which provide a clean, crisp final touch to our shirts. Channel a little bit of Cristóbal Balenciaga with a white shirt and monochromatic tie from our collection.
Cristóbal Balenciaga has Philippe Perzi Vienna’s utmost respect because he was part of a rare breed of designer whom – by matter of good taste, or merely a product of their time (perhaps a little of both) – didn’t need to dress in the most obvious or outlandish way simply because they were a ‘designer.’ Whilst Balenciaga was setting the new standard for women’s design, seen in his enduring creations like the tunic dress, chemise dress, baby-doll dress and balloon skirt, Balenciaga made sure he kept to the “less is more adage” when it came to his own style.
These days, the trend amongst some young (and not so young) men, sporting conspicuous body ink, wearing excessive jewelry, leather or rubber straps around their wrists, chains hanging from belts and the like may have its place somewhere, but more often than not is simply distracting and a little bit too studied or contrived. Remember the next time you’re getting dressed what kind of image you’re putting across and let your shirt and tie do the talking without added fuss. Less really is more! Keep the message simple and masculine.
A maverick and a genius
Cristóbal Balenciaga was a trendsetter not a follower. He disliked the ‘rules’ and refused to play by them, preferring to shun celebrity in order to protect his intellectual property (his designs) and stay true to his beliefs. This was a man of principle and fortitude. A true maverick of his time and one of the reasons why he is an inspiring style icon to Philippe Perzi Vienna – someone we closely relate to, because we like to set our own high standard of style and quality and aren’t slaves to short terms trends. Remember, fashion comes and goes, style is forever.
Season after season, Cristóbal Balenciaga set the trend that other designers tried to emulate or copy. Incensed by the ‘copy-cats,’ in 1957 Balenciaga and his protégé Givenchy, decided to delay their fashion show for the press until the day prior to the retail delivery date (instead of 4 weeks before the retail delivery date that was standard at the time), in an effort to keep his rivals (namely Christian Dior) from copying his designs. As a result, Givenchy and Balenciaga received scant publicity, acclaim or coverage due to the near impossible deadlines the press had to meet. However, Cristóbal wasn’t interested in gaining kudos or fame and refused to get involved in the media hype surrounding fashion seasons. He was often ostracized by the press and instead Christian Dior was given credit for innovations that were in fact first featured in Balenciaga’s collections. In a similarly defiant manner Cristóbal Balenciaga resisted the rules, guidelines, and bourgeoisie status of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and therefore, his collections were never technically considered Haute Couture.
Cristóbal Balenciaga’s creative genius inspired women’s collections that were daring in both their form and aesthetics, but he refused to succumb to fashion trends and during the 1960s, when the youth culture was booming, he refused to design mini-skirts and instead decided to close the door on his fashion house in 1968.
“Haute couture is like an orchestra, whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the directions he gives.” – Christian Dior
Cristóbal Balenciaga let his designs do the talking and left the fame and celebrity to other designers of the time. Not that Cristobal Balenciaga didn’t have enormous celebrity amongst his elite fans (Spanish and Belgian Royalty, Pauline de Rothschild, Bunny Mellon, Marella Agnelli, Hope Portocarrero, Gloria Guinness, Mona von Bismarck and Jacqueline Kennedy to name a few). He realised the multifaceted nature of his role as designer, famously stating that “A couturier must be an architect for design, a sculptor for shape, a painter for color, a musician for harmony, and a philosopher for temperance.” No different to creating a Philippe Perzi Vienna shirt collection, where we seek to balance colour and temperance harmoniously across the whole shirt collection and what’s more, our guaranteed fit would be considered a triumph among architects and sculptors alike!
Always impeccably dressed himself, he knew that first impressions count and that quality over quantity or ‘less is more’ would win on the day. We live in times where being famous or infamous is often given precedence over style and substance, so this is why Philippe Perzi Vienna thought it appropriate to pay homage to the grand master – Cristóbal Balenciaga. The Maestro, The Architect, The Maverick, The Genius.