How Balenciaga shaped fashion – and made Audrey Hepburn froth at the mouth


Cristóbal Balenciaga at work, Paris, 1968 CREDIT: HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON, MAGNUM PHOTOS

His clothes made Audrey Hepburn froth at the mouth, and Dior called him ‘master’. On the eve of a V&A retrospective of the couturier, The Telegraph salutes Cristóbal Balenciaga….

In 1919, 10 years after a pushy erstwhile cabaret artiste called Coco Chanel had launched a small millinery shop in Paris, Cristóbal Balenciaga, a taciturn Basque, opened his first boutique, in San Sebastián, northern Spain.

Ostensibly so different, yet united in their push to liberate women from what they both saw as the undignified pomp and vulgarity of the overwrought Edwardian era, between them they would exert the most potent and enduring influence over fashion, style and taste of the 20th century and beyond. It was Chanel, however, who became the personality.

Quick-witted, seemingly able to deliver aphorisms to order, unabashed about her unconventional love life, she was the mirror image of the more tortured.