He’d joined a sewing circle by the age of four, and by 12 he was learning the art of cutting at a tailoring house in San Sebastián. It’s no wonder that, by the end of his God-fearing life in 1972, Cristóbal Balenciaga was known as ‘the master of us all’.
Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1927. (Photo by Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

What would the venerable couture house’s creator have made of all this? Hard, if not impossible, to say, as, during his long and illustrious tenure as “fashion’s Picasso” (Cecil Beaton) and “the master of us all” (Christian Dior), Cristóbal Balenciaga made J.D. Salinger look like a blabbermouth. “He is seldom to be seen by his clients and he rarely goes out into society,” Beaton wrote. He gave only one interview, to The Times in 1971, in which he was at pains to express “the absolute impossibility of explaining my métier to anyone”. Only one official photo session exists, from 1927, in which a pensive-looking Balenciaga perches on an Ottoman, resplendent in an immaculately soft-shouldered double-breasted suit and a fluffed pocket-square whose arabesques mimic the avant-garde swirls of his most outré creations.


Stuart Husband


April 2023


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