Cristóbal Balenciaga had a reputation as a designer with uncompromising standards. His jewellery is an example of his unwavering dedication to quality and design, as a result his work features heavily in our vintage collections.
This week we took a deep dive into the history of the house, which reminded us of how fortunate we feel to have our hands on some of the incredible creations released during the very final years of his reign.
A native of Spain, Cristobal has been noted for good reason as one of the most important fashion icons of the 20th century, thanks in part to his an astute attention to detail, with an ability to perfectly balance proportion and volume in a way that felt at once avant garde and incredibly elegant.
Perhaps less famously, he was one of the few in his field who was also able to design and construct his own patterns, with a respect for his craft that was unparalleled - a fact that even Coco Chanel herself said made him the only authentic couturier of his time.
L-R: An example of Cristobal's infamous play with volume and proportion, 1967; Our 1960s Balenciaga Boheme Necklace in Mother of Pearl and Brass, shop it here; another statement evening look from the Balenciaga Archives, 1961.
The designer never had the personal profile of Coco Chanel or Christian Dior, but his work has arguably been more influential, with subsequent couturiers such as Givenchy, Ungaro and Oscar de la Renta citing his work as significantly instrumental to their own designs.
Originally hailing from Basque Country - the son of a sailor and a seamstress -Cristobal set up his couture house in the Northern Spanish town in 1919, growing to unveil additional boutiques in Barcelona and Madrid, before the Civil War required him to relocate to France.
L-R: Balenciaga night gowns collection, 1957, our 1960s Balenciaga Bella Clip on Earrings, shop them here.
Though locally he became lauded for his work, it took some time before he was acknowledged more widely in the fashion community. Proving that perseverance and a confidence in his directional aesthetic would eventually pay off, his work was finally included in Vogue magazine in 1937, the year of his first Parisian boutique opening and the same year of his first ever haute couture collection show, set inside his Avenue George V salon.
L-R Cristobal's first ever inclusion in Vogue, 1937, featuring a multi-strand pearl necklace, cuff bracelet and subtle clip on earrings; our 1960s Balenciaga Couture Divine Necklace in Mother of Pearl, shop it here.
Throughout the 1950s his reputation for creating iconic, sleek silhouettes and modern proportion play only grew and by the 1960s, he was dressing the most famous women of the time - notably designing the wedding dress for the Queen of Belgium, which now resides at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa, in his hometown.
With no-one to succeed him, Balenciaga decided to retire and closed the house in 1968, just over 30 year after he opened his first Parisian store. He died not long after, in 1972, at the age of 78.
Nayara wears our 1960s Balenciaga Boheme Necklace, in Mother of Pearl and Brass, shop it here. Photo: David K. Shields.
After his death, the house of Balenciaga lay dormant until 1986, when it was acquired by a private company, resulting in a decade of collections under a number of head designers, to mixed review.
But in 1997 the house would see a breath of fresh air and the sign of a return to greatness, when Nicolas Ghesquière was appointed head designer, debuting his first collection for the couturier in 1998.
Three years later, Balenciaga would be acquired by Kering, the French luxury conglomerate which also owns Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Yves Saint Laurent among other houses, and in the years since has become one of the company's fastest growing brands.
L-R: Nicholas Ghesquière’s first ever season for Balenciaga in 1998, shown on the runway above - a predominantly black collection with a nod to Balenciaga's attention to line and silhouette; our 1960s Balenciaga Chantilly Necklace in Resin, Brass, Chain and Leather Cord, shop it here; The finale look of the Autumn 2017 show, by the house's current head designer, Demna Gvasalia.
Today, the house has been headed by award-winning Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia since 2015, lauded also for his own label, Vetements. Since Gvasalia's appointment, Balenciaga has been re-labelled as one of the most aspirational and desirable designer brands of today, a feat we think Cristobal would have been extremely proud to see.
With such a rich history and directional aesthetic, we feel privileged to have our hands on some of the most iconic pieces of jewellery created by Cristobal in his final years, just shortly before he died.
If you'd love to add a true work of art to your jewellery collection, click here to shop our curation of vintage Balenciaga pieces, direct from Paris and in immaculate, unworn condition.