Jun 8, 2011
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Spanish designer Balenciaga honoured with hometown museum

Jun 8, 2011

June 7- Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga, the son of a Basque fisherman who revolutionised women's fashions in the 1950s and 60s and adorned such icons as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, has been honoured with a museum in his hometown.

Cristobal Balenciaga creation

Balenciaga's home village of Getaria in Spain's northern Basque region has opened a museum that shows some 90 of his works, including the wedding dress of Belgium's Queen Fabiola and one worn by the late Princess Grace of Monaco.

Spain's Queen Sofia and French designer Hubert de Givenchy were among those attending the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

The museum, which opens to the public on Friday, occupies more than 5,000 square metres (54,000 square feet) of a 19th century palace in Getaria, to which a modern wing has been added.

It also includes a documentation centre and a space for temporary exhibitions.

However, the museum has been beset by both financial and managerial difficulties.

The Balenciaga Foundation, which was tasked with setting up the museum 10 years ago, benefited from financial support from regional authorities.

An investigation was launched into alleged irregularies in its management. And the initial budget of 6.0 million euros ($8.8 million) soared to 30 million, according to Basque media.

Spain's Queen Sofia unveils a placard to inaugurate the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum (Photo: AFP, Rafa Rivas)

With the simplicity and austerity of his cut, Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga created dresses of incredible fluidity and grace.

Born the son of a fisherman in Getaria in 1895, Balenciaga was a self-taught designer who learnt his craft by unpicking dresses he bought from such top French designers as Coco Chanel.

At just 23 he opened his first boutique in San Sebastian, and soon attracted patronage from Spanish high society.

But the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1937, forced him to close his three shops and move to the French capital, which was to launch him on the international scene, and where he stayed until he retired in 1968.

The austerity of the war years brought new challenges for Balenciaga and set him on a quest to bring his clothes to life.

He staged his first show at his atelier in Paris in 1937, with a collection heavily influenced by his Spanish roots, such as beautifully embroidered bolero jackets and his "Infanta" gown inspired by the costumes of young Spanish princesses.

In the postwar years, his fashions became even more streamlined, liberating women from the constraints of the tight-fitting hourglass New Look created by French designer Christian Dior.

In contrast Balenciaga's designs flowed around the body.

Through the 1950s, waistlines were dropped and then raised and then dispensed with all together in his sack dress, which despite its name was flattering to all shapes and was widely copied.

Polka dots, inherited from his Spanish roots, and abstract flower designs were a recurrent theme, as were stripes and checks.

Balenciago died in 1972 aged 77.

by Rafa Rivas

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