Cristobal Balenciaga was such a giant in the world of haute couture, it's no surprise that his namesake house went into decline after his retirement in 1968. For decades the brand was largely dormant, though the name survived by virtue of Balenciaga's reputation and the production of branded perfumes. Though his haute couture salons were closed, Balenciaga's influential legacy was undiminished. Museum exhibitions celebrated his creations and designers mentored by Balenciaga, including Courrèges, Ungaro, de la Renta, and Givenchy, became successful. Though investors attempted to revive the brand beginning in the late 1980s, Balenciaga languished until Nicolas Ghesquière became creative director in the late 1990s.
Hired in 1995 to design licensed products, including funeral wear, for the Japanese market, Nicolas Ghesquière (b. 1971) was appointed creative director of Balenciaga in 1997. He was a virtual unknown in the fashion world and almost no one (i.e. the fashion press and buyers) attended his first show. Within a short few years, however, his work was generating new buzz for and about Balenciaga. In 2000, Vogue acknowledged that Ghesquière had revived Balenciaga, turning the venerated house into something "new and impossibly hip."1 By 2008, fashion critic Cathy Horyn said of the designer: "Whenever Nicholas Ghesquière...presents a collection, fashion writers and buyers always seem to fall into a swoon—myself included."2 In 2012, Ghesquière left Balenciaga after 15 years. Alexander Wang was hired to replace Ghesquière; his first few collections for Balenciaga have been well-received.
This sophisticated black suit is a contemporary tribute to Yves Saint Laurent's 1966 Le Smoking. A chic, tailored alternative to evening dresses, Le Smoking provided a new option for formal dressing. Instead of froufrou evening gowns, women could pare down to sharp, sexy silhouette. Here, rounded lapels, softly gathered shoulders, bishop sleeves, and a sash belt counteract the severity of a traditional tuxedo. Contrasting textiles, matte vs. shiny, provide additional texture to this already luxurious evening ensemble. Hand-picked stitches on the pocket hint at Balenciaga's history as a renowned maker of haute couture.
1 Singer, Sally. "Point of View: The New Guard." Vogue (July 1, 2000): 136.
2 Horyn, Cathy. "They Come Bearing Mystique." New York Times (Feb. 23, 2008): G1.