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August 20 2014

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Cristobal Balenciaga’s Cat Couture

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To put it one way, Cristobal Balenciaga’s first model was rather feline: “At age six, Balenciaga cut his first coat,” Vogue‘s Hamish Bowles informed an intimate group at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute in New York last night. “For his cat.” Not your typical first fitting, but a pivotal one nonetheless. “The cat kept moving and he got frustrated,” Bowles said of Balenciaga and his erstwhile muse. “Which is, perhaps, why he always thought about moveability and comfort in his designs later on.” The audience taking note at last night’s bash—a who’s who of CFDA designers, from Francisco Costa to Tory Burch and Marcus Wainwright—were gathered to take in Balenciaga: Spanish Master, an exhibit of the late Basque designer’s work curated by Bowles, himself an avid Balenciaga collector.


Oscar de la Renta, the evening’s co-host and the institute’s chairman, had a personal take on the show. As a young apprentice to the famously private designer, de la Renta recalled with a laugh, “When people ask how it was working in his atelier, I always tell them, ‘I was picking pins off the floor.’ I was terrified of him. He worked with only a small group of people, and he never gave an interview. He was very protective; I would say even suspicious.” If Balenciaga were alive today—his 116th birthday is this Friday, January 21—he most likely would have been appalled by the rash of celebrity-driven lines and Twitter devotees, but it seems even the master had a weak spot. “Balenciaga wasn’t a great sketcher,” de la Renta divulged. “But he was great with his hands.”

Photo: Billy Farrell / BFAnyc.com

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  1. EUNY says:

    This is the very first article in the NY press that mentions that Cristobal Balenciaga was Basque. Congratulations to the author.
    This is not just a detail is a fact defined his work over his lifetime. We had to read that he was influenced by flamenco on the 20′. Obviously this journalist or curators lack the knowledge of Spanish history. The basque country in the 20′s wasn’t at all influenced by flamenco that it’s a cultural expresion from andalusia. Cristobal Balenciaga spoke -Basque- and as the son of a fisherman in Getaria he was very much indeed, influenced by that culture. he later move to san Sebastian, 9 miles away, where on those days was the capital of the european royalty (right after WWI). When he closed his parisian house in 1968 he went back to San sebastian and retired at Monte Igueldo.
    By the time he opened his Parisian house he had 3 houses, San sebastian, Madrid and Barcelona.
    He was a mature desiger on his 40′s when he moved to Paris.
    It’s very much a pitty how this exhibition just focus on the spanish topic and lost the opportunity to show who he who really was and how much he worked in Spain before Paris.
    Next time please, do study history and sociology before putting together an exhibition from a foreign designer. (Spain is way too much complex than the vision that some iliterate americans have from it).

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