A Look Back At Balenciaga's Most Iconic Moments Through History

As the V&A celebrates the influence of iconic couturier Cristobal Balenciaga, look back at the brand's most-loved designs and moments of recent years

Tiffany Hsu Balenciaga street style

As the upcoming V&A exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion proves, the legendary house has a long, storied history that goes far beyond the luxe puffers and bejewelled heels its known for at the moment.

Founder Cristobal Balenciaga opened his Paris couture house in 1937, having fled the Civil War in his native Spain. He quickly won a legion of fans, from aristocracy and royalty to Hollywood A-listers, and was the favoured designer of the rich and famous for decades, despite his dislike of publicity.

In 1968, he suddenly closed his house. A move that caught many by surprise, including loyal client Mona von Bismarck, who was so upset she refused to leave her Capri villa for three days.

Balenciaga died shortly after in 1972, 14 years before his label was brought back to life in 1986 by Jacques Bogart SA. It would reach a new creative high in 1997 when Nicolas Ghesquiere was appointed Creative Director, using Cristobal's ethos as his template. The Frenchman reinvigorated the house, making it one of the most famous in the world today. Following a brief stint as Creative Director by Alexander Wang, it is now helmed by Demna Gvasalia and continues to thrive.

Here, we track the fashion house's most iconic moments in history...


The man

Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his Paris couture house in August 1937, having been forced out of his native Spain — where his clients included royalty and aristocracy — by the country's Civil War.

He quickly became just as successful in Paris, with customers reportedly risking their safety to travel to Paris during World War II to buy his dresses and gowns.

The other New Look

Post-war, he offered an alternative to Christian Dior's New Look, characterised by its nipped-in waist, championing an empire line silhouette instead. Dior himself called Balenciaga 'the master of us all.'


His use of bubble hemlines (pictured) was lauded, as was his creation of the sack dress and the cocoon coat - all silhouettes that remain to this day. During his career, he mentored designers including Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Oscar de la Renta.

Balenciaga on film

In 1956, Cristobal designed Ingrid Bergman's costumes for the historical film 'Anastasia'. 


The pieces created for the film included a navy suit and a princess-line satin gown with sipper-satin stole (pictured),

Famous fans

Cristobal Balenciaga become well known for his Hollywood fans, including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy (who famously fell out with her husband over her Balenciaga bills).

Pictured: Elizabeth Taylor in 1967, wearing an intricate sari dress designed by Cristobal Balenciaga


Actress Anita Ekberg leaving Balenciaga's Avenue George V store in Paris in 1962.

Cristobal's final design

Balenciaga came out of retirement in 1972 to create the wedding dress of Spanish aristocrat and socialite María del Carmen Martínez-Bordiú (pictured). He passed away two weeks later.


The dress (pictured) featured more than 10,000 pearls and used 20 spools of silver thread. Balenciaga is alleged to have completely remade the gown just two days before the wedding because he wasn't satisfied with the fit.

The first 'It bag'

Nicolas Ghesquière designed his first bag, the 'Motorcycle Lariat', three years after arriving at the fashion house. He produces two prototypes initially but label heads decide not to put it into production. Eventually he persuades them to produce just 25, gifting them to models editors and friends, including Kate Moss (pictured in 2003). The design quickly became one of the first 'It bags', seen on everyone from Moss to the Olsen twins. It is still sold 

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