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Balenciaga's Bounty

Culture Watch
The Cristobal Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, Spain.

By Tail Jaffe

Balenciaga is having a banner year. The widely acclaimed show, "Balenciaga and Spain" made its way from New York’s Reina Sofia Museum to San Francisco’s De Young Museum where it just closed out a highly-attended 14-week run, and last week saw the launch of Balenciaga’s expanded website—chock full of behind the scenes material, fashion videos and artist collaborations. But perhaps the greatest testament to the Spanish master’s impact on the fashion industry was the opening of the CristÛbal Balenciaga museum in his hometown of Getaria, Spain.

Last month the CristÛbal Balenciaga museum opened in a newly built annex to Palacio Aldamar. This majestic villa, on a hilltop overlooking Getaria, was the residence of the MarquÈs and Marquesa of Casa Torres, mentors to Balenciaga during the early days of his career. The museum was a longtime in the making and the work of a number of devoted admirers and collectors of the great designer, including Hubert de Givenchy, president of the Cristobal Balenciaga Foundation. The most extensive collection of Balenciaga creations, the museum showcases 1,200 donated pieces amassed since the 1980s, featuring donations from avid collectors such as Bunny Mellon and Mona von Bismarck and Hubert de Givenchy’s entire personal collection.

The museum’s permanent collection is organized into six gallery spaces—Early Years, Day, Cocktail, Evening, Brides and Essential Balenciaga. In this way visitors get a thorough understanding of life that fed into the work of the designer, including a display of dresses he designed before gaining international recognition as a couturier.

The next four gallery spaces explore the main characteristics of Balenciaga's work as seen in his day ensembles, cocktail dresses, evening dresses and bridal gowns, displayed in the same order as a traditional haute couture fashion show. And the last part of the exhibition is dedicated to the designer’s most outstanding creations, either from a technical perspective or because of the influences that permeated his designs throughout his career. The dresses in this part of the exhibit are displayed in individual glass cases. Each one is accompanied by projected images showing details on pattern and garment construction.

Temporary exhibitions will be mounted each month organized around different aspects of Balenciaga’s work and will be accompanied by other events such as classes, lectures and educational workshops.

Once described as "the only true couturier among us" by Coco Chanel, Balenciaga’s career began in his native Spain as an "apprentice" to his mother, a sought-after seamstress. After some years working in a popular dress shop in the nearby town of San Sebastian, Balenciaga opened his own atelier, presenting himself as a couturier.

But it wasn’t until he moved to Paris, following the onset of the Spanish Civil War, that Balenciaga appeared on the international fashion scene after presenting his first Haute Couture collection in 1937. His first collection was met with rave reviews, as were his subsequent collections, particularly 1939’s Infanta. While Balenciaga continued his career outside of Spain, he kept firmly rooted in his Spanish heritage and his collections ushered in a period of princess silhouettes inspired by the traditional costumes depicted in paintings by the likes of Vel·zquez, Zurbaran and Goya.

If you make the trip to Spain and visit the museum, make sure to stop into the gift shop which houses a wide range of exclusive products inspired by the master’s vast legacy.

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