Cristóbal Balenciaga Biography

Cristóbal Balenciaga, the Spanish fashion Moghul, is renowned for establishing the house of Balenciaga, a revered haute-couture brand. Known as the ‘couturier’s couturier’, Balenciaga possessed unparalleled expertise in every aspect of garment creation. Unlike other designers, he began his process with the fabric itself, eschewing sketches. With the ability to pattern, drape, cut, sew, and finish a garment entirely on his own, Balenciaga’s collections always featured at least one attire constructed solely by his hands. His unwavering dedication to perfection endeared him not only to his elite clientele but also to his contemporaries. French designers Christian Dior hailed him as ‘the master of us all’, while Coco Chanel recognized him as the sole true couturier. Balenciaga’s finesse and profound understanding of cloth and tailoring set him apart, enabling him to envision and create masterpieces that surpassed the imagination of others.

Quick Facts

  • Spanish Celebrities Born In January: Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre
  • Died At Age: 77
  • Family: father – José Balenciaga Basurto, mother – Martina Eizaguirre Embil
  • Born Country: Spain
  • Occupation: Fashion Designer
  • Gender: Male
  • Died on: March 24, 1972
  • Place of Death: Xàbia, Spain
  • Cause of Death: Heart Attack

Childhood & Early Life

Cristóbal Balenciaga was born on 21 January 1895, in the town of Getaria, in Spain’s Gipuzkoa province. His mother, Maria Martina Eizaguirre Embil, was a seamstress and his father, José Balenciaga Basurto, was a fisherman who passed away when Balenciaga was quite young. He had two elder siblings, sister Maria Agustina and brother Juan Martin.

After his father died, Cristóbal Balenciaga would spend most of his time with his mother and watching her work, which was his first introduction to fashion. When Cristóbal Balenciaga was twelve-years-old, Marquess de Casa Torres, a noblewoman who was a client of his mother, noticed his fascination towards women’s clothing and provided him with the opportunity to get formal training. He worked as a tailor’s apprentice in Madrid.


At the age of 22, Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his first boutique under his mother’s name, ‘Eisa’, in San Sebastián, Spain and registered his eponymous brand. He expanded the business by opening branches in Barcelona and Madrid. His clients during this time included the Spanish Royal family, and he often travelled to Paris to study the work of great designers and try to imbibe the knowledge in his creations back home.

He designed garments like the kimono-shaped coat with ermine fur on the cuffs and collars, and reproduced the multi-layered Lanvin dress with a yoke in silk-tulle, in 1927. He worked on improving his craft and catered to his client’s special requirements by coming up with unique creations that were in trend with the current fashion magazines, like the wedding dress designed for Carmen Alústiza and the evening coat with balloon sleeves, in 1933.

Cristóbal Balenciaga was forced to shut shop and move to Paris when the Spanish Civil War started in 1936. He opened the ‘Balenciaga’ store at 10 Avenue George V in August 1937. His first Parisian collection was an immediate success, establishing him as one of the best couturiers of the time and earning the House of Balenciaga the reputation for being an expensive yet exclusive boutique.

He imparted his knowledge by teaching and inspiring great designers like Emanuel Ungaro, Oscar de la Renta, Mila Schön, Hubert de Givenchy, and André Courrèges. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Balenciaga reigned supreme. His creations were iconic and considered to be masterpieces of haute couture, attracting dignitaries, socialites, actresses, designers, and an endless list of high-profile clients.

Major Works

Cristóbal Balenciaga’s designs were popular for their aesthetics, fine embroideries, exceptional structures, and out-of-the-ordinary craftsmanship. One of the game-changers he designed was the semi-fitted look of the 1952 dress, which had a tailored sleek front while the back was full and billowing. He created the ‘Sack Dress’ in 1957, which was a loose and comfortable dress without a clinched waist, totally revolutionizing the shape of women’s fashion. Then came the ‘Baby Doll’ dress in 1958, which was frilly, carefree, and allowed the wearer a freedom of motion that was unknown during those times.

Awards & Achievements

Cristóbal Balenciaga received the Chevalier or the Knight title in the Legion of Honour, which is the highest order of merit awarded by France. He was named Commander by the Spanish Civil Order of Isabella the Catholic, which is a recognition given by the Spanish monarch for services for the country.

Spanish Queen Sofia inaugurated the Balenciaga Museum in 2011, in his hometown Getaria, which graces more than 1200 ensembles designed by Balenciaga.

Family & Personal Life

Cristóbal Balenciaga was gay and was known to have several lovers during his youth. However, his longest relationship was with his partner Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville, a milliner, in Paris, although the couple never got married. Balenciaga was a private person and wasn’t vocal about his sexuality. Attainville’s death in 1948 was a very traumatic experience for Balenciaga, as he was heartbroken and even considered shutting down the business altogether, but he carried on and engrossed himself in his work.

He died due to a heart attack on 23 March 1972, at the age of 77, in Spain and is buried in the Getaria cemetery.


Cristóbal Balenciaga was an introvert and refrained from interacting with the press. Although he was extremely popular for his craft, he gave only one interview in his 50-year career.

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