Cristóbal Balenciaga, before becoming Cristóbal Balenciaga. On January 19th, a new series dedicated to one of the most iconic designers of all time comes out. He recounts his difficult debut in Paris, the transformation of his style compared to his beginnings in Spain and his international success. It’s called Cristobal Balenciaga and will be available on Disney+ (also visible on Sky Glass, Sky Q and via the app on Now Smart Stick).
The series is set in the period from the Spanish Civil War to the early 1970s. It begins with the designer dealing with his first haute couture collection in the French capital, in 1937. Behind him, he has great successes in his ateliers in Madrid and San Sebastián. But his models – with which he dressed the Spanish elite and aristocracy – do not work in Paris. Balenciaga, however, does not give up. “Cristóbal Balenciaga debuts as a designer in Paris, but the designs that set trends in Spain don’t work in the sophisticated fashion empire where Chanel, Dior and Givenchy set the trends. Driven by an obsession for control in all aspects of life, Balenciaga will define his style and end up becoming the greatest of them all,” reads the official synopsis.
The series is created by Lourdes Iglesias and directed by the award-winning Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga (12-time Goya Award winners). Playing the Spanish designer is Alberto San Juan. “Participating in this project is an honor. For the character, the script, the directors and the team in general. It’s a challenge for everyone. As it always is, but this time a little more. It’s almost like shooting three films in four months, in different languages and with an interval of a few decades between the beginning and the end,” the actor said in recent months. “As soon as Alberto San Juan did the audition, we immediately understood that we had found our Cristóbal Balenciaga,” confided the three directors. Then there is an international cast that brings to life famous figures of the 20th century who in some way were fundamental in Balenciaga’s life. We find, for example, Belén Cuesta who plays Fabiola de Mora y Aragón (the queen for whom the designer designed the wedding dress); Josean Bengoetxea and Cecilia Solaguren, who play San Sebastián businessman Nicolás Bizkarrondo and his wife Virgilia Mendizabal; Adam Quintero is Ramón Esparza, the designer’s historic collaborator; Thomas Coumans is Wladzio D’Attainville, partner and business partner of Balenciaga; Gemma Whelan is Prudence Glynn, journalist of the Times; Anouk Grinberg is Coco Chanel; Gabrielle Lazure is Carmel Snow, fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar; Patrice Thibaud is Christian Dior; Nine d’Urso is the model Colette; Anna-Victoire Olivier is the actress Audrey Hepburn.
The series Cristobal Balenciaga is produced by Xabier Berzosa for Moriarti Produkzioak and Irusoin. It is made up of six episodes: one will be released per week on Fridays, from January 19th to February 23rd. It was shot on over 90 sets in Spain (Basque Country, Navarre and Madrid) and France (Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse). Filming lasted 18 weeks. As for the technical part, the person responsible for the original soundtrack is the composer Alberto Iglesias, Javier Agirre Erauso is the director of photography, Mikel Serrano is the artistic director, Karmele Soler is the makeup artist.
An important role in the series, of course, is played by the costumes. The project required extensive research and historical reconstruction. The costume designer Bina Daigeller, nominated for an Oscar for the live-action film, took care of it Mulan and at the Emmys for Mrs. America. Daigeller, together with pattern maker Pepo Ruiz Dorado, led a team of thirty people and recreated the Spanish designer’s designs. “When the project was presented to me I was thrilled at the idea of working on a Spanish series about the most iconic Spanish designer of all time. Its shapes and volumes have always seemed impeccable and extremely modern to me. It was very interesting to discover how he used fabrics and how he worked with singular techniques to give life to his ageless models,” said the costume designer.
Who was Cristóbal Balenciaga
Cristóbal Balenciaga was born in Getaria, in the Basque Country, in 1895. His father was a fisherman, his mother was a seamstress and passed on to him a passion for needle and thread. At 12 he started working as an apprentice in an atelier. A few years later he moved to Madrid and continued working in a tailor’s shop. He soon began to enjoy success in his country, so much so that in 1919 he opened a boutique in San Sebastián and then in Madrid and Barcelona. In 1937, when he moved to Paris, he opened his own fashion house. After a difficult start, his style has found a new path without denying itself: thanks to extraordinary talent, constant work and business acumen, Balenciaga has achieved international success, becoming one of the most influential figures in fashion. In 1968, at the age of 74, he decided to retire from work. He died of a heart attack in 1972, at the age of 77, while on holiday at the national parador in Javea. He was buried in Getaria.
From Grace Kelly to Jackie Kennedy, there have been many celebrities who have chosen her clothes. Until Queen Fabiola of Belgium, who asked him to design her wedding dress. Coco Chanel called him “the only true couturier”, because he was among the few designers capable of sewing the clothes he created. Christian Dior called him “the master of us all”. For Hubert de Givenchy he was “the architect of haute couture”. “When a woman dressed in Balenciaga enters a room, all the others disappear,” said journalist Diana Vreeland. While the photographer Cecil Beaton, recalling his revolution of the female silhouette, with linear and rigorous shapes often inspired by architecture, declared: “Balenciaga founded the future of fashion”. And in fact his style, over the years, has influenced many stylists.
Balenciaga is also known for having been an enigmatic, solitary and reserved man, who throughout his career gave very few interviews and kept his private life away from the spotlight. The series, therefore, wants to reveal the background of his existence. “My life has been my work: style, discretion, exclusivity,” we hear in the trailer. “A woman’s body, a piece of fabric and the right stitches to hold everything together,” says the voice-over of Alberto San Juan / Cristóbal Balenciaga, while images of his workshop and excerpts from fashion shows scroll by. The six episodes, thus, tell the story of a man, of how he survived war, losses and betrayals, of his social redemption after challenging the conventions of the time. But they also tell the story of a designer, of how he revolutionized the world of fashion and became one of the most important names in the sector.