Balenciaga & Barcelona: Journey to the Origins

Saida Santana

Cristóbal Balenciaga was a major force in Barcelona’s rise to fame as a fashion capital in the early 20th century.

The name Balenciaga brings to mind images of the most exquisite, revolutionay haute couture. These images come to life inside the iconic building which houses the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in Guetaria, a small coastal town in northern Spain.

Coco Chanel called him “a true couturier”, and if we had to associate his essence as a designer to a particular geographical landscape, it would have to be that of Guipúzcoa, maybe even Paris. The city of Barcelona was also very important in his development as one of the most celebrated fashion designers in history.

In 2013, the museum held the successful exhibition: Balenciaga and Haute Couture in Barcelona, an exhibition that portrayed a new image of the designer. The display served as a nod to the history of the city at the beginning of the 20th century, and served as reminder of the role Balenciaga played on the burgeoning fashion culture that existed in the Condal City during those early years. The exhibit was curated by art historian Josep Casamartina, and included a careful selection of pieces from the Antoni de Montpalau collection, as well as garments from the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation.

If we took a flashback to the Barcelona of the early 20th century, we’ll discover it was comparable to Paris, although the French capital has long been the undeniable center of haute couture for more than a century now. Barcelona’s booming textile industry and the masterful handicraft of Catalan designers produced top quality garments.

Several factors helped strengthen Barcelona’s foothold on fashion. On one hand, designer Pedro Rodríguez opened his salon following Parisian guidelines, showing one collection for each season. Moreover, the prestigious French Maison, Lanvin opened a branch in the city in 1920. We should also mention the relevance of the Barcelona International Exposition of 1929. It was under this circumstances that Cristóbal Balenciaga established himself in the capital of Catalonia. He would soon become one of the most respected designers in all Spain.

The Spanish civil war put an end to Balenciaga’s business plans, but the bad news came with a silver lining. It pushed the young designer to move to Paris and settle at the heart of the fashion world. After the war, he returned his attention to Spain, opening luxury boutiques in San Sebastian, Madrid and, of course, Barcelona.

© | 2019