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Spanish Fashion: Spain on the World's Fashion Map

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

spanish fashionCoco Chanel once said, «Fashions pass, style remains». This maxim is one of the fashion's most famous for a reason - it's true. And it has never been more so in case of Spanish fashion. Spanish fashion is a wondrous medley of beauty, style, lines, cuts and silhouettes in myriads of colors and bold striking prints. Spanish style is the style of outwardly reserved and inwardly passionate Donnas and Dons which can be best defined by the word «gorgeous» as in «gorgeous designs by Cristobal Balenciaga». His dresses are timeless, and as good wine, they only get better with age. Balenciaga was not only a fashion designer, but an engineer and an architect, as he once said, «A couturier must be: an architect for design, a sculptor for safe, a painter for color, a musician for harmony and philosopher for temperance».

This Spanish fashion designer had a reputation as a couturier of uncompromising standards and was regarded as «the master of us all» by Christian Dior. His designs inspired the fashion industry throughout the twentieth century and continue to influence today.

His cut was so perfect that he never wasted a centimeter of fabric; he ironed the clothes he designed and even did some sewing himself (it was Balenciaga's tradition to include in each of his 93 fashion collections a black dress he had made all by himself).

Balenciaga's choice of colors was rather conventional, mostly limited to the traditional Spanish palette: lots of black, brown and bottle green, with inclusions of purple and fiery red. Balenciaga's trademarks include bubble skirts, odd, feminine yet modern shapes. His first runway show in 1937 featured designs heavily influenced by the Spanish Renaissance and won immediate success. During the Second World War, Balenciaga was noted for his «square coat», with sleeves cut in a single piece with the yoke, and for his designs with black (or black and brown) lace over bright pink fabric.

However, it was not until the post-war years that the full scale of the inventiveness of this highly original designer became evident. His lines became more linear and sleek, diverging from the hourglass shape popularized by Christian Dior's New Look. The fluidity of his silhouettes enabled him to manipulate the relationship between his clothing and women's bodies. In 1951, he totally transformed the silhouette, broadening the shoulders and removing the waist. In 1955, he designed the tunic dress, which later developed into the chemise dress of 1958. Other contributions in the postwar era included the spherical balloon jacket (1953), the high-waisted baby doll dress (1957), the cocoon coat (1957), the balloon skirt (1957), and the sack dress (1957).  In 1959, his work culminated in the Empire line, with high-waisted dresses and coats cut like kimonos. His manipulation of the waist, in particular, contributed to what is considered to be his most important contribution to the world of fashion: a new silhouette for women.

In the 1960s, Balenciaga was an innovator in his use of fabrics: he tended toward heavy fabrics, intricate embroidery, and bold materials. His trademarks included collars that stood away from the collarbone to give a swanlike appearance and shortened bracelet sleeves.

Wealthy women the world over soon made breathless trips to his atelier seeking his lustrous black dresses, even risking travel to Europe during the war years. Balenciaga's list of clients included the best dressed women of his time: the queen of Spain and Belgium, the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Countess Mona von Bismarck among others. One longtime patron, Countess Mona von Bismarck, ordered 150 dresses in one sitting. Jackie Kennedy famously upset John F. Kennedy for buying Balenciaga's expensive creations while he was President because he feared that the American public might think the purchases too lavish. Her haute couture bills were eventually discreetly paid by her father-in-law, Joseph Kennedy.

However, Balenciaga's penchant for decoration soon melted away, his silhouettes loosened and what there was of an overdramatized rivalry with Christian Dior ended without injury. And thus began Balenciaga's real legacy: extreme unfussiness.

Balenciaga owned his fashion house, and after his retirement in 1968 the Balenciaga House was closed.  Currently it is owned by Gucci that revived its former glory with young and controversial Nicolas Ghesquiere. It is rumored that Gucci Group put pressure of Ghesquiere and even threatened to replace him if Balenciaga could not be profitable.

Ghesquire's futuristic fabric research with shades of saris shocks our eyes and hearts, and reminds us what fashion is. His design is personal and sexy. He knows how to use color to evoke Saint Laurent, how to express his style in a modern interpretation.

It is interesting that Paco Rabanne, second most prominent Spanish designer, is the son of a dressmaker at Balenciaga fashion house. In 1965 he debuted with «12 experimental and unwearable dresses in contemporary materials», a collection title that sounds more like a manifesto, in rhodoid and metal, clips and soldered materials. Then the collections followed one after another, with leather, metal and fabric tending to become increasingly fluid.

It was not until the 1990s that Paco Rabanne created his first women's ready-to-wear line, which held an enshrined modernity. In perfect harmony with the Haute Couture creations, this new line took a proud stand for modernity with its innovative material, elegant simplicity, spicy femininity, and essential look.

Here they are - two legendary Spanish designers who uncompromisingly put their beautiful country on the map of world fashion.

So similar in their nature, so different in style.

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