Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972) was a Spanish-born couture designer and was the main Spanish influence on dress during the 1940s and 1950s. He ran his own Spanish design house, but relocated to Paris in 1937 because of the Spanish Civil War. He then opened his own couture house on 10 avenue Georges V and was an immediate success.
He was a perfectionist. His designs were timeless, but they were always ahead of the times. His styles tended to anticipate and create trends. He did not make radical shifts of hem lengths or silhouettes from one season to the next. His designs were austure and extravagant at the same time: they were simple, tailored - even architectural - silhouettes often with extravagant decoration.
He often used historical references to regional (ethnic) dress and traditional techniques. He used the somber tones of the Spanish country-side, was inspired by the Basque peasant costume, and the flamenco stage (Miller, 1993). His extravagant embroideries often inspired by Spanish baroque (Koda, 1987). His inspriation also came from the work of Spanish portrait painters such as Goya. Balenciaga was active as a designer in Paris from 1937 to 1968.
"Cristobal Balenciaga was the true son of a strong country filled with style, vibrant color, and a fine history. He remained forever a Spaniard and his inspiration came from the bullrings, the flamenco dancers, the fishermen in their boots and loose blouses, and the glories of the church and the cool of the cloisters and monasteries. He took their colors, their cuts, then festooned them to his own taste and dressed the Western world for thirty years." (Diana Vreeland, MMA exhibition of Balenciaga's work.)
"Maja Dress and the Andalusian Image of Spain" - an assigned reading
If your image of Spain is one of provocative romance, ruffled skirts, shawls, flowers or combs in the hair, mantillas and bull fighting - these elements are rooted in the dress of the Andalusian region of Spain and that of the maja. The maja was a feminine dandy, one who uses exaggerated clothing and mannerisms. This is the image of Spain that influenced the dress of Latin America (Worth & Sibley, 1994).
Other regions of Spain have distinctive costumes as well, but it is the Andalusian style that serves as Spanish dress. Identifying features of the Maja costume (18th Century) include sleeves tied on to the bodice, functional or non-functional decoration on the lower sleeve and horizontal trim on the skirt. A red faja (sash) was sometimes worn at the waist. On the hair was worn a hair net, or a mantilla (lace shawl) and comb. In the 19th century, features of the Maja costume included rows of tassels and vandyking (a saw-tooth trim) (Worth & Sibley, 1994).
Throughout history, Maja dress was influenced by popular fashion. It evolved as fashion evolved during the 18th and 19th centuries. Maja costume had declined in use by 1840s, but upper classes continued to wear it when attending bullfights until end of the century (Worth & Sibley, 1994).
The maja was a popular subject of Goyaís paintings as well as that of other Spanish artists in the late 18th century (Worth & Sibley, 1994).
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