Balenciaga is the namesake Parisian brand of founder Cristóbal Balenciaga, who has been called “the master of us all” by Christian Dior himself. That’s a bold claim, but it also explains the enduring influence of the label, which – far from Demna’s viral platform Crocs and knockoff tourist totes – originated as a Spanish haute couture atelier back in 1917.
After moving to Paris, Balenciaga opened a couture house in the city in 1937. Within a couple of years, his designs were being hailed as revolutionary by the French press, and he continued to innovate with influential silhouettes – churning out protégés such as Oscar de la Renta, Emanuel Ungaro and close friend Hubert de Givenchy – until the house closed in 1968.
After Cristóbal Balenciaga’s death in 1972, his heirs sold perfumes under his name and in 1978 sold the house to German group Hoechste. The house subsequently closed, reopening under new management in 1986, with the introduction of ready to wear a year later. Still, Balenciaga essentially floundered until 1997, with the appointment of a young Nicolas Ghesquière, whose shows garnered critical acclaim. The French luxury group Kering acquired the house in 2001.
Following Ghesquière’s departure in 2012, Alexander Wangunexpectedly took the helm for three years, leaving in 2015. Demna Gvasalia, then the head designer of Vetements, was announced as his replacement, radically changing the label’s aesthetic to blend an appreciation of Cristóbal’s construction with his own cutting-edge roots.
Gvasalia’s appointment – along with someinnovativepresentations and collabs with the likes of Cardi B – also ushered in a new era of virality. The brand’s Triple S trainer is maybe the best example of its penchant for hyper-exclusive (and hyper-pricey) items, although who can forget the £1,400 Ikea shopping bag? Or the £200 keyring based on an air freshener, which inspired one of many appropriation lawsuits against the label? Of course, the prices of such items are (debatably) justified through luxury fabrics and construction.