Welcome to The Director’s Cut, an interactive column featuring fashion, beauty and career advice from RGNN Director and Founder, @isabelevabohrer.
“You are a king. A king. You are made to dress queens.”– Coco Chanel, speaking about Cristóbal Balenciaga
Given the recent controversies surrounding Balenciaga’s 2022/2023 campaigns condemned for child abuse and pornography, it is hard to imagine that Coco Chanel once said this of the brand’s original designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga. Sure, the company has since taken down the campaigns, sued the designer and production company of the ““Kiddie Porn” campaign,” to quote @diet_prada, and even Creative Director Demna has publicly apologized. But the reputation of the Balenciaga brand today is still more that of a streetwear brand worn by trendy influencers, and of course, Kim Kardashian.
In short, Balenciaga is not the first name a fashion lover thinks of when it comes to haute couture nowadays. Yet that was not always the case. Coco Chanel revered Cristóbal Balenciaga, and so did Christian Dior. “[Cristóbal] Balenciaga was the master of us all,” said Dior. “Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.” In fact, it was Demna who decided to bring back haute couture to the Balenciaga brand in 2020; the Maison had not produced a couture collection since 1968, when “Cristóbal Balenciaga himself shuttered his atelier,” as Vogue reported.
Now, “the King of haute couture” has landed back in Spain, and soon, will be on TV screens worldwide. “Cristóbal Balenciaga,” an exhibition that renders homage to the Spanish designer’s unprecedented mastery of fabric, cut and style, just opened at the Real Jardín Botánico in Madrid. The occasion? “Cristóbal Balenciaga,” the TV series that will be premiering on Disney+ on January 19, 2024.
The exhibit showcases artisanal replicas of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s most iconic designs, created by the TV series’ costume designers Bina Daigeler and Pepo Ruiz Dorado. You’ll travel back in time to Balenciaga’s early days, – he opened his first atelier when he was 22,- to his prêt-à–porter designs, and even a replica of the royal wedding dress he designed for Queen Fabiola of Belgium.
A recreation of the huge white box, in which the spectacular wedding dress was transported from Balenciaga’s studio in Madrid to the Laeken Palace in Brussels in 1960, says it all. Come closer and you’ll find a quote of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s from the TV series, “this is what a prêt-à–porter piece can never achieve: to be escorted by six motorcycles.”
Cristóbal Balenciaga really was a couturier through and through. The final exhibition room mirrors what it was like inside Maison Balenciaga – you can even take a seat front row. Sitting in awe of one of my favorite Balenciaga designs, the above pictured ‘envelope’ dress, a masterpiece made of two black satin pieces attached to one another by just a few simple stitches and adorned with a pair of straps and a jeweled brooch, I couldn’t help but wonder: is the TV series trying to redeem the Balenciaga name? Would Cristóbal be turning around in his grave, knowing what has happened with his brand today? It does, after all, still bear his last name. In business, and in life, nothing lasts forever.
When I came home to write this article, I saw some fashion influencers on Instagram mentioning that Demna should watch the TV series. I certainly can’t wait until it comes out. And if you’re in Madrid before then, stop by the exhibit, it’s on view until January 21, 2024. Perhaps you’ll look at that Balenciaga Hourglass bag or the brand’s viral Cagole buckle boots in a different light from now on. I sure can’t help but reminisce, even if only for a split-second, about Cristóbal when they pop up on my feed.
Plan your visit
“Cristóbal Balenciaga” exhibition.
Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid.
Pl. Murillo, 2, Retiro, 28014 Madrid.
- Opening hours: 10.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
- Entrance to the exhibition is included in the general entry to the Royal Botanical Garden.
- Buy tickets online in advance here (recommended) or at the entrance gate “Puerta de Murillo.”
- On view until January 21, 2024. The Disney+ TV series will premiere in Spain on January 19, 2024.
Thank you to Balenciaga, Disney+ and the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid for inviting us.