Balenciaga’s Beautiful Designs and His Massive Influence on Haute Couture

Cristobal Balenciaga changed haute couture forever. Also, he mentored countless designers and created an everlasting legacy.

Aditya Roy
Fashion Police
Published in
5 min readJan 12


In the 1950s, when soon-to-be icons were entering haute couture, among them was an aristocratic French designer. His name was Hubert de Givenchy.

Balenciaga captured by photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson.
Balenciaga at work

Balenciaga mentored designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Andre Courreges, Emanuel Ungaro, and Givenchy. At one point in time, de la Renta worked as a fashion illustrator but it was Givenchy that was his shining star.

Givenchy shaped his aesthetic with the help of Spanish couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga. His mentorship helped him build his vision as a couturier.

Now, let us understand the influence Balenciaga had on the fashion industry, and then his influence on Givenchy.

Balenciaga’s Legacy in the Fashion Industry

No stranger to fame and praise, the famously private Balenciaga had an inimitable style. His clothes were elegant and skillfully crafted. Being a great tailor, he could transform his designs on paper into exceptional fashion pieces custom-tailored for clients.

In fact, his mother was a seamstress, and he initially studied under her. It was when he went to Madrid to study design and tailoring that everything changed for him.

Cristobal Balenciaga was referred to as the “master of us all” by Dior. His unmistakable silhouette defined the fashion of the 50s. In fact, it defied all conventions of the fashion industry at the time. But it wasn’t until the post-war years that his inventiveness was lauded.

In 1951, he took a creative decision to broaden the shoulders and remove the waistline. In 1955, he dreamed up the tunic dress which later became the chemise dress. The chemise dress is also known as the sack dress.

A woman with a voluminous dress in the 50s
The Sack Dress

In 1959, his work culminated in the Empire line (as shown below.)

A woman with a slender physique in the Empire dress.
The Empire Dress

Bunny Mellon, the famed horticulturalist, was full of praise for him. She said that his clothes gave her courage. She famously wore his funnel-shaped gown made of duchess satin; it was a masterpiece of the 1960s.

In fact, Balenciaga’s silhouettes are known for their billowiness. For instance, the famed cocoon coat highlighted feminine and graceful lines. Its curve resembled that of a bulbous egg. Perhaps, it was a metaphor for the birth of new fashion.

The cocoon coat by Balenciaga.
The Cocoon Coat

All in all, Cristobal Balenciaga’s influence in the 50s and 60s is undeniable. He was an inventor who designed beautiful garments. Single-handedly, he remade the frameworks for haute couture and broke design conventions.

Another highly influential designer was Hubert de Givenchy. Although, one could argue that both of them helped each other in both creative problems and personal battles. Let’s see how they worked with each other.

Confluence of Fashion Designs

The pair met in 1953, two years after Givenchy opened his couture house. By the 50s, he reached near-collaborator status. He even received credits for helping Balenciaga design his famed sack dress. It had an exuberant and more youthful silhouette at the time that removed the waist.

In 1957, both couturiers displayed the shapeless dress. The design had signaled the shift away from highly-structured silhouettes. Here’s Givenchy’s design.

A woman wearing Givenchy’s Sack dress
The Sack Dress by Givenchy

Battles Against the Press and Chambre

In 1957, Balenciaga decided to show his collection to the press a day before the clothing retail delivery date. The standard followed by the industry was that of a large window of 4 weeks.

By keeping the press unaware of his garment designs until they were shipped to stores, he hoped to stub out piracy. The press resisted as they could barely manage to cover his work within the print deadlines.

Givenchy firmly stood by Balenciaga’s side, leading to a serious impact on the press coverage of their work during the era. In 1967, both designers came back to the traditional schedule.

Also, Balenciaga refused to join the Chambre Syndicale. He had several reasons. For instance, his value for utmost privacy. Also, he always avoided the press and rejected the strict guidelines of the body.

Some of these guidelines were: displaying two collections each year, producing 75 brand-new, authentic designs of day and evening wear for each collection, and having 20 full-time workpeople at the atelier.

Givenchy was the lone designer to side with Balenciaga’s decision. One of the consequences of this was that Balenciaga’s designs weren’t protected from counterfeiting. Hence, he took extreme measures to ensure authenticity in the market.

How Did Balenciaga Influence Givenchy’s Designs?

Givenchy was officially never Balenciaga’s apprentice. Instead, the elder couturier chose to become his mentor, guiding him in business and aesthetics.

In the early 1960s, fashion critics complained that Givenchy relied too heavily on Balenciaga’s distinct approach to couture. Nonetheless, both became immensely successful. Each had faithful clientele in France and the United States. Shown below are two coats designed by both of them.

The coat on the left is by Givenchy and the other one is by Balenciaga
Coats by Givenchy and Balenciaga

The one on the left is by Givenchy, and the other in violet is by Cristobal Balenciaga. It is a testament to the fact that both designers learnt from each other. Although, Givenchy’s respect for Balenciaga was unmatched. The master taught the student in return for his immense support through tough times.

I’ll end this article with a quote by Hubert de Givenchy.

There’s Balenciaga, and the good Lord.



Aditya Roy
Fashion Police

I’m a copywriter with a passion for learning and playing chess. I write on fashion, technology, and literature. Do enjoy my work and leave any suggestions.