If the fashion industry is cyclic, with reinvented looks from revered designers filling the runway, then it’s no surprise that a majority of our wardrobes have deep-rooted, even ancient, fashion origins. Your double-breasted trench coat may have come from H&M, but that design was created by Thomas Burberry solely for the British army during World War I. The Burberry trench coat is now a classic and the tired Burberry brand has evolved into a fashion super power.
Like the trench coat has its roots in well, the trenches, many of the trends we see today are inspired from fashion’s predecessors. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
It seems fitting to showcase the Spaniard who changed the shape of fashion, literally. CristÃ³bal Balenciaga has been touted as the master, God, even Sensei, thanks to his revolutionary silhouettes, his vision of the female body and his remarkable, perfect precision cutting. He changed Mid-Twentieth century fashion.
Born in the Basque region of Spain in 1895, Balenciaga found success in his native country but soon left Spain for Paris during the Spanish Civil War. Strongly influenced by his heritage, Balanciaga drew inspiration from painters such as Velazquez and Goya as well as from the toreadors who fought in the bullrings throughout Spain (Balenciaga was one of the first to create the embellished bolero). Balenciaga’s celebrated square coat-in which the sleeve was cut in one piece with the yoke, his unique use of the colors brown and black, and his signature look of black lace over bright pink, wooed women from high society.
Balenciaga introduced the non-existent waistline, which has reappeared on recent fall and spring runways. He opted for fluid lines that made it possible to alter the shape of a women’s body. Phoebe Philo, former Creative Director of Chloe, channeled an early Balenciaga on her first spring runway. Balenciaga’s waistlines were independent of a women’s natural line. He raised them to create the empire waist and then dropped them, ignoring the natural silhouette of a woman.
The post war years produced a more streamlined, linear shape that is has been echoed in Balenciaga’s spring 2007 runways. In 1953 he debuted the balloon jacket. The high-waisted baby doll dress was introduced in 1957 and the balloon skirt, shown as a single pouf or doubled, came shortly thereafter. Numerous designers have recreated the balloon skirt and it can be seen on couture and ready-to-wear runways as well as in numerous retail stores such as Banana Republic and Club Monaco. The sack dress was unveiled in late 1957 and although the shape has no defined waist, it was universally flattering. Like the balloon silhouette, the sack dress was copied by many ready-to-wear manufacturers in the 1960’s and was made available at a low price point.
The shapes and textures of Emanuel Ungaro and AndrÃ© CourrÃ¨ges (who apprenticed at CristÃ³bal’s atelier) are descendents of Balenciaga designs and their houses continue to echo the Balenciaga design traditions. The Duchess of Windsor, Gloria Guinness and Jacqueline Kennedy Onasiss were loyal clients. Balenciaga was not only able to alter a woman’s silhouette but he also created collars that elongated the neck, making women appear graceful, swan-like.
The legacy of CristÃ³bal Balenciaga has been and will continue to be carried on by his famous apprentices and those who were inspired by his provocative work. The next time you layer a baggy dress over black leggings, thank Balenciaga for the discernible waist that descended from his forgiving sack dress design.
1. Balenciaga 1959 Navy Sack Dress
2. Chloe 2006 Black Sack Dress
3. Chloe 2006 White Sack Dress
5. Balenciaga Spring 2007 Bolero
6. Tuleh Fall 2005 Bolero