When we decided we’d spend our holiday in Northern Spain this summer, I was keen to make sure we would be able to visit the Cristobel Balenciaga museum in Getaria, a small village on the coast where Balenciaga was born, and where he was eventually buried in 1972.
The village itself is worth a visit for the pintxos bars alone (yum!) (which supply the local version of tapas) and in which I seem to have eaten my own bodyweight whilst here, but I digress. The museum building (on the right) was specially commissioned and is impressive in its own right.
The inside was pretty impressive too, and very quiet, that day, which was great for taking photos.
I didn’t know much about him before I went, but he does seem to be having a renaissance at the moment, with the V & A also putting on an exhibition of his works, which I hope to be able to visit too.
The current display focused on the wardrobe of Rachel L. Mellon, an American society heiress, philanthropist, loyal customer of Balenciaga’s work, and also his friend. For over 10 years she clothed herself in haute couture from his studio and it is this collection that was on show when I visited.
Here she is (on the right) with her good friend Jacqueline Kennedy.
Balenciaga was born in Spain in 1895, and followed his seamstress mother into producing and designing clothing for the Spanish upper classes, opening his own studio in 1919 in San Sebastian, Spain, initially, before moving eventually to Paris and opening his own couture house in 1937. He was trained as a tailor and was one of the only designers in that time who could cut their own designs by hand.
He is most well known for his post-war work, and was a true innovator, designing the first sack dress, the empire-line babydoll dress and the balloon jacket.
The tour started with a 20 minute video explaining his life and work, with other designers being interviewed to help understand his approach, since he only ever gave one interview himself, throughout his whole career. It was well worth seeing this, since I knew so little about him and it set the scene for the rest of the tour.
Most of the clothing was behind glass, so not great to take photos of, especially with the low level lighting to help preserve the pieces. Despite that I got reasonable shots of some of the lovely outfits, which were displayed very straightforwardly. So, I’ll shut up now, and let the photos speak for themselves.
I found the designs were very much of their time, of course, but the sheer simplicity of the silhouettes and the restrained details felt very much of the “less is more” ethos, which I loved. I’ve seen the quite a few designer exhibitions over the years and this was one of the most understated, simple and classic collections I’ve ever been to. It was bit of a shame that there were no descriptions for each outfit.
If you’re a lover of fashion history, or in the area and have a spare half a day I’d highly recommend visiting.