A route to discover Balenciaga’s Paris

Along with New York, Paris is perhaps the only city in the world that looks like a brand on its own: by adding its name to a product, you multiply its value. Presenting a perfume with the last name Ljubljana or Yerevan does not provide “added value”, but if it says Paris it necessarily has to have style. But style is not acquired overnight. It’s hard to earn it.

And if not, tell Cristóbal Balenciaga, the 20th century Parisian fashion architect who, before becoming the most important Spanish designer of his time, had to battle with the frivolity, vendettas and inbreeding of 19th century Paris. prêt-to-porterthat budding industry founded by designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet and Givenchy.

And how can a son of a fisherman and a seamstress Getaria Was he able to integrate into an environment as suffocatingly exclusive as that of Paris in the late 1930s? With personality, audacity, firmness and a lot, a lot of work. Taking advantage of the premiere of the series of Disney+we take a tour of Balenciaga’s Paris, visiting the corners that marked the life of the Spanish designer.

Balenciaga in Paris: from Coco Chanel to the Elysée

‘Balenciaga’ – David Herranz/Disney+

Our route through Balenciaga’s Paris starts where the series begins, in the Madeleine church in the homonymous neighborhood belonging to the VIII District Parisian that the Basque designer knew so well during his time in Paris since both his private home and the headquarters of his business were located there. house.

Those responsible for the Disney+ series were able to film several scenes inside the Parisian church itself where Gabrielle ChanelCoco, celebrated his funeral in January 1971. La Madeleine is one of the many architectural icons of the French capital, an emblem of the most solemn neoclassicism that has its roots in the Greco-Latin tradition.

Balenciaga - David Herranz/Disney+
Filming of ‘Balenciaga’ inside the Madeleine – David Herranz/Disney+

For a clueless walker, it is surprising to come across this imposing forest of 30-meter-high Corinthian columns in perfect harmony with the Rue Royal that leads to the Place de la Concorde: like walking through Periclean Athens to the rhythm of a Parisian accordion.

A retired Balenciaga traveled to this solemn church to pay his last tribute to his old friend—with whom he later fell out—coinciding with a good part of the crème de la crème of Paris in the early 70s, also including Prudence Glynn, the fashion journalist The Times who approaches him after the funeral, convincing him to give an interview. A true milestone since Balenciaga had only given one interview up to that point.

The mystery of the Balenciaga ‘house’

Balenciaga - David Herranz/Disney+
‘Maison’ Balenciaga – David Herranz/Disney+

It is precisely this rabidly unsociable character, dedicated exclusively to his work, to living fashion indoors, in his workshop, that fostered the myth of Balenciaga. The Basque designer was not an extravagant guy, a lover of parties, gossip and bombast like his other colleagues: he preferred to stay in his house located in the 10 George V Avenue: He communicated with the world through his work, not through his more or less successful statements. That’s how all artists should be, right?

But art has a commercial aspect, at least in our capitalist society in which nothing escapes marketing. And, at the end of the day, that commercial aspect is what allows designers (and everyone else) to continue with their work. This unsolvable conflict of the art world is what is addressed in the first episode of the Disney+ series, much of which is set in the house from the neighborhood of Elysian Fields Parisians.

Balenciaga - David Herranz/Disney+
Balenciaga, played by Alberto San Juan, walking across the Alexander III Bridge in Paris – David Herranz/Disney+

There is no loss if you want to pay tribute to the master today in his own house. Although the Balenciaga brand has not been linked to the Basque couturier’s family for many years – after it closed in 1972 with his death, it was reopened in 1986 under the impetus of the Kering group to which Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney also belong – its store is still open.

Located one step away from Soul Bridge and not far from the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, the former house by Balenciaga was one of the main inspirations of Arregi, Garaño and Goenaga, the directors of the series, who were able to access the archive that is still kept in the flagship of Balenciaga in Paris.

Between the Champs Elysées neighborhood and the Chaillot neighborhood From the 16th District the couturier who owned a house in the 20 Avenue Marceau five minutes walk from his firm’s atelier. We also see him on several occasions in the recreation of that house, accompanied first of all by his partner, Wladzio d’Attainville, who they say was Balenciaga’s great love throughout his life.

Balenciaga and the memory of Spain

Balenciaga - David Herranz/Disney+
Balenciaga looking at the Seine – David Herranz/Disney+

Although the series tiptoes over various political aspects that characterized Balenciaga’s first stage in Paris—among other things because the couturier himself avoided public positions, preferring to focus on his work—it is a fact that the Civil War and World War II They also mark mid-century Paris.

In the first episode of the series, Balenciaga and his patron, the exiled businessman Nicolás Bizkarrando, attend the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, one of the most remembered exhibitions in history. And it makes your hair stand on end, to say the least, to see the flag of Nazi Germany, with swastikas flying, in front of the Soviet pavilion with a monumental sculpture of two people carrying the hammer and sickle. And, in the middle, the Eiffel Tower. Almost nothing.

The following years would be responsible for translating that iconic image in one of the most tragic confrontations in the history of humanity that had as an “appetizer” the Spanish Civil War, with disasters such as that of Gernika: Balenciaga and his patron visit the exhibition of Picasso’s painting at the spanish pavilion: yes, Spain was “in fashion” at that time showing the path of self-destruction to the rest of Europe.

But life goes on and we have to keep working: we see how Balenciaga opens the book Spain: types and costumes in which, presumably, he was inspired for one of his first Parisian collections, which earned him the approval of critics and helped to mark his own path, independent of the influences of other haute couture houses.

The last sequence of the first chapter of the Disney+ series shows us Coco Chanel and the editor of Harper’s Bazaar in Paris, Carmel Snowenthusiastic about the parade with the new proposals from Balenciaga who, since then, was one of the architects of the consolidation of the Parisian style, the one that, many decades later, continues to be priced upwards in any product that bears its name.

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