Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

For Your Erudition


Christobal Balenciaga

Time to get serious….. New series on the history, legacy and benefits of past designers. Hopefully you’ll learn something, or at least appreciate today’s fashion. Because, folks, not surprisingly, nothing’s new!
Having recently completed my third Chanel style jacket I was personally interested in the legacy these iconic designers have bequeathed us modern day sewers. 

What’s this going to be?

Today we starting with a Spanish designer – Christobel Balenciagia.
Balenciaga worked from the body; he knew its failings and how to distract from them.
He used the stomach, shoulders, and hips as points of construction and support and knew how to flatten, straighten and smooth them with fabric. What more could you ask of an item of clothing?
I want to concentrate on is what Balenciaga gave us today – his inheritance if you like. I am not going to reproduce an autobiography, you can find that anywhere on the internet, I am concentrating on the legacy.
However, a short biography to set the scene – Balenciaga started in the tailoring business at age 14 and this served him throughout his time in couture and design, always basing ideas on the fundamentals of the properties of cloth and the shape of the body.  True to learning the hard and long way, Balenciaga came up through the ranks of the tailoring business, learning the basics, cutting and then moving into fitting. Due to a fortunate patroness of the aristocracy he became famous in his native Spain. But political and social upheaval (namely the Civil War) prevented him from remaining in his home and he moved first to London (tailoring) and then settled in Paris (couture).
He hardly ever incorporated stiffeners and wires (bones) to a dress but let interfacing, cut and design replace the restrictions of corseted clothing, unlike Dior at the same time. Comfort and flexibility were the imperatives of his design ethic – similar to Chanel’s – allowing a woman to move and breathe without constriction. A perfectionist, he inspired and mentored Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Hubert de Givenchy, Courreges and Ungaro.  At the time Balenciaga was competing against Dior and the two both admired and rivalled each other – giving us the complex and contrasting designs of the time.
Balenciaga clothes did not come cheap – in the 1950s a suit would cost in old money Fr 110,000 about £ $220,300, €169,000 £ 100,00.00 in today’s money – so not cheap by any standards.
He was adept at creating different sleeve styles (please note Rhonda!) and sought perfection in every design. He manipulated kimono style, Magyar, and set-in to exacting standards and this has resulted in the vast variety of designs we see today.
Remember, Balenciaga started in 1918 : after moving from Spain to France the first house of Balenciaga opened in 1937. That is when our Grandmothers, Great mothers were alive! His influence and enduring style has impacted on all our lives whether you have even heard of him or not.
Knee-high boots – Balenciaga started the trend
Baby-doll dresses – those are his!
Shift dresses (or sack as they were called then) – he started these as well
Asymmetrical hemlines – another of his creations
All these are Balenciaga’s ideas that we have incorporated and are still using today.
From 1967 Balenciaga was creating dresses with raised hemlines at the front – we still use this design ethic today.

Donna Karen drapes?
CB was there first with this gorgeous 1966 silk draped dress – on the right – perfection! BTW, the photo on the left is CB too, not DK.

It is staggering the ideas than emanated from Paris from 1939 onwards; as though a floodgate had been opened.

The innovations that Balenciaga made after 1939 were mainly in cutting techniques and it all started with the sleeve.  He was as much interested in the back of garment as the front and added darts, seams and ‘tricks’ to create lightness and movement for the fortunate wearer of his clothes. He was interested in the responsiveness of a garment to the wearer’s movements.
Look at this coat from 1964 made in wool. 
There are no side seams, so from the front it looks intact – one piece. At the back you can see the construction – three panels: lower incorporating the whole of the front; middle, incorporating the lower sleeves; upper, incorporating the upper sleeves and shoulders. Streamlined, that’s what I call it.

Trippen shoes? Balenciaga was already inspiring designers way back in 1938. Made of silk and wood these represent architectural influences in fashion.

Published in Vogue 1939 as a design for Balenciaga, this pair of extraordinary shoes is actually the work of designer Steven Arpad. Like many designers at the time most of Arpad’s work seems to have been done anonymously and released under the name of an established fashion house. 

Stella McCartney – sorry my dear – you are not original
Originally showcased in 1950 made from silk this dress/coat arguably initiates the oversized/cocoon style of 2011A/W collections.

Remind you of something?
Tilton sisters – I fear you are subconsciously inspired by CB: no bad thing in my opinion. I love your designs and am glad I own your Vogue patterns.

You may know already that I have a small weakness for Paco Peralta’s designs and patterns. Just in case you are unsure of this admiration just click on this link and you’ll find unabashed adoration. Well, between you and me he quite recently admitted that his design ethic is similar to Balenciaga’s – drape the fabric; see how it falls; cut to fit. Simple, classic and beautifully fitting clothing.

Dare I… Yes I do… Spanish design is apparently inherent in simple, classic, stylish and timeless design. Peralta and Balenciagia cut from the same cloth? Yes, but different times, different economic influences, different outcomes.

If you are interested in discovering more about Balenciaga’s legacy please visit the following sites for designs and their history: believe me, it’s fascinating and will easily divert you from sewing for 2 hours minimum. Procrastination – I’m giving it to you on a plate.

And please, if you don’t want to read anything but just look at pictures then go to*&rpp=60&pg=1  for a wonderful collection of original pieces.

Finally – those of you who guess what garment the pattern piece will morph into will win a prize, a pattern and you chose the item – dress, skirt, jacket, coat, blouse, top, shirt – I’ll select one from my stash and gift it. Post anywhere – needless to say – your answer has to be correct in order to win. I’ll check with you first if it’s something you’d like – we can come to a compromise if necessary.

Emmm – Paco – you are forbidden from entering this competition! Although if I have a designer pattern in my collection that you’d like, I’ll give it to you, even if you guess right or not, ’cause you’re the best living, accessible designer for us amateurs and I know you like Vogue designer patterns.

I hope you all have learned something from this and found it interesting.

Would you like to know more about those designers who have influenced the designs and fashions of today? Send your preferred designers to comments section and I’ll do the work – ’cause I’m not doing sewing at the moment…..


16 thoughts on “For Your Erudition

  1. CB. Probably my favorite designer. Ruth, where did you get the pic of the suit, Tilton section? Would love this pattern.

  2. Love the post – thanks for doing all the research, it is great to hear about different designers. I am on a bit of a Oscar de la Renta 'thang' right now. I saw one of his dresses for sale in an upmarket store for CAD$2000 and thought 'I can do that'. Watch this space!Well, I can see that there are armholes with your pattern and then A LOT of fabric draping down. So, some kind of top – I look forward to seeing how it looks!!

  3. Dear Ruth,thank you for this interesting informations.Mema

  4. I love that you did this! I have known the name but not the history- this is great reading for inspiration!

  5. Wonderful. As always, a careful history told in a very entertaining way. OK, I don´t participate. Just tell everyone that it's very, very easy to guess. Just let yourself be "wrapped" by the pattern design.

  6. Thank you for such an informative post with some great pic's

  7. Hi there,Thanks for a lovely way to start the day Ruth. Really enjoyed this over a morning cup of coffee.Must buy the pattern and see how it works, but then I should wait and see yours as it will be fab!

  8. Hi Ruth from down under. I really enjoy your adventures and have been lurking here for some time. I think the pattern is a spiral blouse. Thank you for all the wonderful info on CB. Such a fantastic designer.

  9. Hi Ruth, I'm a long time fan of your blog and love the things you make. Given all the helpful visual clues I guess that the pattern piece is the back of the Spiral Blouse. The paper pattern you show says front and back but I think the fabric you show is the back. This would be such fun to make. Vivienne

  10. Hi Ruth, me again. it took me all morning thinking about it but the fabric is indeed both the front and back of the Spiral Blouse. There are no side seams and the sleeves fit into those curves at the sides then the edges of the fabric form the centre front of the blouse. Clever, eh? Vivienne

  11. The slits in the center look like darts and a center front seam. The u shaped dips – armholes. I'm thinking that it is a bodice but I don't have a clear picture of it in my head. AZ Barbara

  12. Beautiful designs, remind me of Tippi Hedren's outfit in the Birds. Somehow I don't think any of them would suit my figure. I'd look like a stingray!What are you making?! A jacket of some unusual construction. Hope some variation on the white wool coat above which I love.Thanks for the erudition btw. Look forward to what comes next.

  13. Def. a top or jacket – but I suppose you could construct any number of things depending on how you draped and fitted it ! I love Balenciaga and your post has encouraged me to spend some time over this snowy weekend reading up on him. I have the book " The Golden Age of Couture" ( from the V and A exhibition a few years back) and " In Vogue" ( a history of American Vogue magazine ) – both fantastic reads – and with GORGEOUS photography.Anyway, looking forward to seeing your mystery garment !Janice.

  14. I found the Balenciaga item very interesting. I have always been interested in Hubert Givenchy but can find very little biographical material. I would love an in-depth look at his life and work. I think your work and blog are very professional and inspirational, please don't stop!!

  15. I'm hanging my head in embarrassment because I truly thought I was following your blog, but that you haven't been posting. Error has been remedied! And I have some catching up to do :)Did you see the Balenciaga exhibit when it was touring 2 years ago? Stunning….so stunning! Look forward to seeing the results of your mystery pattern – I never would have guessed it on my own, but I think Vivienne is right – good sleuthing!

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