The Years of Cristobal Balenciaga
1918 saw the founding of Cristobal Balenciaga’s first haute couture house in San Sébastian, Spain. Local admiration for his designs was so strong that a second haute couture house was opened in Madrid and a third in Barcelona. In 1937, 10, Avenue George V became the Parisian home of Cristobal Balenciaga’s creative influence. Balenciaga’s Paris flagship store is still located at this address.
Balenciaga soon came to embody Parisian elegance. Cristobal Balenciaga was hailed as ‘The Couturier of Couturiers’ and ‘The Master of us all’’ by designer Christian Dior.
In 1946, the House of Balenciaga launched its first perfume, ‘Le Dix’, aptly named after its first atelier, 10, Avenue George V. ‘Le Dix’ attracted the same acclaim as the famous Balenciaga couture pieces, and the perfume soon even rivalled that of Coco Chanel herself. In 1968, Balenciaga closed his couture house, to the deep dismay of his favourite clients. Countess Mona Bismarck lamented the event by locking herself indoors for three days.
Cristobal Balenciaga died in his home country of Spain in 1972. His nephews then took the helm of the business. In 1978, control of the House of Balenciaga, including the important fragrance business, passed to Hoechst and then to Groupe Jacques Bogart in 1986.
In 1995, Nicolas Ghesquière was hired by the House, initially as a designer for the licensed products activity. He became creative director for the House’s own ready-to-wear and accessories collection in 1997.
In 2001, Gucci Group, in partnership with Nicolas Ghesquière as creative director, acquired the House of Balenciaga, now well on its way towards recreating the influence and respect that the house commanded in its former heydays.
Today, the House of Balenciaga creates women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories, sold worldwide.
Years ago, when famed couturier Yves Saint Laurent was asked how many true Haute Couture houses there were, answered “only two: Balenciaga, and Chanel.”
It’s safe to say that Yves Saint Laurent and Dior have now added to that count. At any rate, it’s pretty much a given that the house that Balenciaga built is still the house of houses when it comes to the world of Haute Couture.
Perhaps Cristobal would scoff at the idea of creating accessories for a techno culture icon like the iPod were he still around today, but… here we are: Balenciaga is now selling iPod cases.
Are we seeing the bastardization of once proud couture houses, (catering to a new breed of customers) or is this simply another illustration of the impact that iPod has had on our culture? I’ll let you decide.
My two cents: Relevance by association may sometimes be a good strategy to attract new clients/customers, but in the case of very high level luxury brands, the trade-off can be dire. A house like Balenciaga was never about attracting the spoiled offspring of the super rich. It was about class and exclusivity, not selling out to a fickle crowd with money to burn.
This is how great brands choke and die.
Balenciaga “execs,” here is my advice to you: More haute couture and less marketing. Your brand is about design and quality, not gimmicks and gateway products.