Cristóbal Balenciaga: The Experience of Luxury

Discover what luxury meant in the Balenciaga's haute couture house.

By Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Evening dress (1964) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 24.2007

The experience of luxury

Haute Couture in the central decades of the 20th was the maximum expression of a luxurious and specifically feminine experience. A world of exclusiveness and exquisiteness around the creations designed by the couturiers and tailor made for each client, the etiquette governing the purchasing process and the social contexts where these creations were exhibited. Cristóbal Balenciaga is regarded 'the master' of haute couture and his contribution serves as the ultimate benchmark.

By Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

Cristóbal Balenciaga: A master of haute couture

Cristóbal Balenciaga revolutionized the concept of dressing and the female silhouette. For him, perfection was an obligation and his extraordinary technical skils facilitated the task. As a result of his innovative personality, he sought greater simplicity and purity of forms. He was hailed by fashion designer Coco Chanel as "the only true couturier amongst us, able to design, cut, assemble and sew a dress entirely by himself."

Cristóbal Balenciaga deserves the title of “The Master” due to the perfection of his creations and ability to be ahead of his time by creating a new technical and visual language for the female silhouette. His work has stood the test of time is even more relevant today.

Cocktail coat (1960) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 36.2013

Luxury means different things for different people: uniqueness, exclusiveness, an status the Haut Couture world of Maison Balenciaga it meant also to access a source of elegance, self confidence, and figure enhancement without relinquishing comfort or practicality, all of it worked out through a perfect fabric choice, cut and fit.

Cocktail dress in black faille (1951) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 02.2015

Maison Balenciaga courted a reputation for "Le plus cher et clientèle le plus riches", the most expensive place with the wealthiest clients.

Evening ensemble (1965) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 04.2003 ab

Unconditional clients 

Balenciaga’s clients were socially prominent women: big fortunes from finance and industrial worlds, aristocrats, artist and intellectuals and diplomats. A social elite who attached great importance to their clothing as an external symbol of their personality, status, and lifestyle, following and sometimes creating the dressing codes which ruled most social interactions. 

Grace Kelly by Loomis DeanLIFE Photo Collection

The Balenciagas

The Balenciagas, - as the firms’ most loyal clients were named by some journalists -, felt comfortable and reassure in their clothes, ready to success in their social lives. Diana Vreeland, fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar said; “In a Balenciaga, you were the only woman in the room – no other woman existed“.

Distinguished personalities of the 20th century such as Mona Von Bismarck, Bunny Mellon, Barbara Hutton, Grace Kelly, Madame Jack Bousquet or Madeline Dittenfofer wore Balenciaga's creations.

Party coat (1964) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Mona Von Bismarck

When Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968, Diana Vreeland quipped that Mona dis not leave her bedroom in the villa at Capri for three days.

Cocktail dress (1957) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 2000.05

Rachel L. Mellon

“For more than ten years Balenciaga had made almost everything I wore. He understood my need was a simple working fashion in the country as well as ball gowns, evenings coats and extraordinary hats”. Bunny Mellon.

Wedding dress (1960) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 2003.08

Queen Fabiola

Balenciaga reported in an interview with Paris Match in 1968 how at the age 12 he met the Marchioness of Casa-Torres, who allowed him to make a model and became his first client. In 1960 he would wear his granddaughter, Fabiola from Belgium, at his wedding.

Fashion show by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Building the experience

Everything in the Maison Balenciaga, from the design of the spaces to the last detail of the customer relationship, was meant to enforce the attributes of elegance, excellence and exclusiveness.

Cristóbal Balenciaga in the Maison Balenciaga, ParisCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Maison Balenciaga

The couture maison was located in Paris and opened in 1937 at 10 Avenue George V.

Cristóbal Balenciaga's couture maison in ParisCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The salons

The salons were decorated in a refined polychromatic style: white walls, luxurious golden furniture, floors covered with grey carpets. It was conceived to avoid interferences with the colours and prints of the dresses that were presented on it.

Sari dress (1961) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa


The picture shows a sari-dress in pink cloqué with metallic threads, finished off with golden assementerie, made in Paris in 1961. The turned and gold wood chair with bulrush seat belongs to the salons and fitters of the EISA firm in Madrid.

Cape coat (1962) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa


Clients would sit on this chair while models wearing Balenciaga's newest designs would walk past. The cape coat in moss green gazar is finished off with large frill.

Presentation invitation, Maison Balenciaga (1960)Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

By invitation only

Accessing the salons of House Balenciaga involved passing through the strict control of the firm's receptionist. A personal invitation was needed and none of them were issued without the prior recommendation of one of the regular clients.

This was Mademoiselle V. Quarry's personal invitation to the presentation of the new Sping-Summer collection at the Balenciaga firms's salon in Paris, in 1960.

Semifitted suitCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Fashion presentations

Fashion shows for clients used to start following the official presentation of the collection and were run at daily bases during two months. The mannequins, full time workers at the firm, were permanently at the disposal of the customers to wear, in silence, the models chosen for them.

The mannequins

Mannequins were selected by having the anatomic features that adapted to the Balenciaga style, as well as the grace of movements and altive stare necessary to embodied his concept of elegance.

Dress in black crepe (1962) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 02.2015

Key figures at the maison

The saleswomen, key figures of the maison, were perfectly familiar with the social circles and lifestyle of their customers. Elegant and educated, they were uniformed with the firm's models in discreet tones. They accompanied the customers throughout the entire process with exquisite carte.

The relationship between the customer and the assistant became so close that many customers left in their hand the preselection of models, which were sent as drafts, along the possible samples of fabric.

Balenciaga maison in MadridCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The fittings

The fitting was a key step in this process. Customers were led by their personal vendeuse to the changing room, where a fitting assistant fitted the toiles to the lady's size. The customer knew that, from that moment on, she would have a series of appointments for the weekly fittings, always adhering to an unspoken rule: no discussions over the features of the model or the price.

"The first fitting at Balenciaga is worth the third at any other house". Marlene Dietrich.

Cristóbal Balenciaga's couture maison in Paris (1937)Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Accesible luxury 

The aura surrounding Balenciaga practically became a social aspiration.

In 1948 the first boutique opened on Avenue George V in Paris at street level, where ítems such as perfumes, gloves, scarfs, bags or tights where exhibited and sold.

The emergence of these accessories and the copies (licensed or not) of the original models provided a taste of luxury for a wider spectrum of public.

Cristóbal Balenciaga's couture maison in ParisCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Artistic fantasies and window displays

The boutique’s iconic window displays were created by sculptor, set designer and installation artist Janine Janet. She met Balenciaga in 1952 and created seasonal window displays which mixed the world of art and fashion.

Janine Janet's exquisite and artistic decorations translated the luxury of Balenciaga's collections with the utmost discretion. This window display allures the passerby with its surreal and renaissance inspired decoration - promoting the ultimate luxury: the scent of luxury.

Perfume bottle - Le Dix by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The scent of Balenciaga

Le Dix, created in 1946-1947, was the first perfume launched by the house of Balenciaga. In 1948, the house created its second perfume, La fuite des heures; in 1955 the third perfume was released, Quadrille.

Silk stokings by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa


Balenciaga Paris silk stockings in assorted colours.

Jacket in brown wool (Circa 1949) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Department stores

Buyers from department stores such as Harrods, Bloomingdales or Saks went to the presentation of the collection seeking models that were easily identifiable with the designer.

They pursue Balenciaga models already completed in order to be able to copy them a large number of times with the label "inspired by Balenciaga" or "adapted from an original Balenciaga".

In the picture, Balenciaga for Dan Millstein.

Jacket in brown wool (Circa 1949) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The allure of Balenciaga

The desire for a Balenciaga is mentioned in Harper's Bazaar, 1964: "Every woman virtually uses one form of his creations, either directly or indirectly", alluding to the existence of both legal and illegal copies.

Balenciaga. The experience of luxuryCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The lucky few

But they were also ordinary fortunate women who could wear a Balenciaga in extraordinary cirumstanteces, which made us learn a bit about Balenciaga’s personality.

Credits: Story

Cristóbal Balenciaga: The Experience of Luxury

Organiser: Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa
Curator: Igor Uria

© Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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