Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, Getaria, Spain

The Balenciaga Museum is a public institution dedicated to studying and keeping alive the memory of fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. It is located in his hometown, Guetaria (Guipúzcoa) and was inaugurated in June 2011.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa opened on 7 June 2011 in the town of Getaria (Spain), becoming the world’s first great museum of its type dedicated exclusively to a couturier. Created under the tutorship of the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation, its mission is to disseminate and highlight the importance of the figure and work of this brilliant designer in artistic creation in general and in the world of fashion and haute couture in particular.

The Museum is home to one of the most relevant collections of creations by Cristóbal Balenciaga at an international level, both due to the number and quality of the items included and to the timespan they cover.

In the Museum’s spaces, in addition to exhibiting, in rotation, a representative selection of his collections, there are temporary exhibitions linked to fashion and educational and leisure activities.

In 1994 the Balenciaga Foundation was created, whose main project was to open a museum in the birthplace of the famous designer. For this, the Aldamar Palace was chosen, a nineteenth century building whose owners had supported the young Balenciaga. Attached to the mansion, a building with a modern line would be erected, with glass as the main material.

The museum was to open at the beginning in 2003, but its preparation was affected by several irregularities. According to several sources, the new building had been designed by a Cuban architect who lacked homologation to work in Spain; in addition, the exhibition rooms were inadequate for the garments, since the intense light that entered through the windows threatened to deteriorate the tissues. On the other hand, a review of the funds revealed the disappearance of some pieces of Balenciaga, such as silk scarves, which had apparently been given as a gift to people outside the museum.

The Ministry of Culture decided to withdraw the subsidies in 2005. Two years later it was decided to unblock this situation when they saw that the facts were being clarified. The new building was adapted museologically to guarantee the preservation of the exposed garments. In any case, the amount of the exposed repertoire is reduced to 90 pieces, which will be rotated to avoid a prolonged incidence of light.

The 7 of June of 2011 many personalities approached the Guipuzcoan town, including Her Majesty Queen Sofia, the veteran designer Givenchy, Spanish designers of several generations, and ladies wore Balenciaga designs, as Carmen Martínez-Bordiú.

The first director of the museum was Javier González de Durana, relieved in 2014 by Miren Vives Almandoz, and the vice president is Sonsoles Diez de Rivera (daughter of Sonsoles de Icaza).

It has a background of more than 1200 garments and accessories designed by the artist. They are exhibited in a rotating manner, both for reasons of space and because the materials are fragile and would deteriorate in a continuous exhibition.

Much of the collection has been gathered thanks to donations and loans. Some 300 pieces were donated by Rachel L. Mellon, wife of the American banking tycoon Paul Mellon and who was a prominent client of Balenciaga. In 2017 the museum dedicates a temporary exhibition to this donor. Other garments have been given in deposit by Hubert de Givenchy, disciple of the teacher of Guetaria, and by heirs of old clients such as Sonsoles de Icaza or Grace Kelly.

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum Collection is related to the professional career and personal profile of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the famous designer from Getaria, who dominated 20th century haute couture.

The Museum has the task of conserving and increasing these collections, while making them more accessible and open.

By exploring this section you will obtain better knowledge of the couturier, of the collections making up the Museum heritage, and of our work in relation to them.

Distributed by type, the collections include:

Balenciaga attire (1912-1971)

The Museum has a collection of clothing designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga and produced, in the main, at his Maisons in Paris, San Sebastián, Madrid and Barcelona. Outstanding among them are the:

Basque Government Collection

Rachel L. Mellon Collection

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Balenciaga accessories (1940-1968)

Scarves, jewellery, gloves, tights, perfumes and headdress sold with the Balenciaga brand name and which completed the look proposed by Balenciaga. In these cases, only the headdress would actually be produced at the Maison ateliers.

Documentation and personal objects of Cristóbal Balenciaga (1899-1972)

Photographs, letters and objects belonging to Cristóbal Balenciaga make up this collection of more than 1000 items.

Working documents from the EISA and Balenciaga Maisons
Invoices, invitations, sales records, etc.
Balenciaga patterns and tools of the trade.
Historical Fashion Magazines
Particularly outstanding are the Pedro Esteban and Hubert de Givenchy collections.
Study Collection
physical replicas and audiovisual material made to facilitate research and study.
Immaterial collection of the testimonies of workers at the Balenciaga House

The collection making up the collections are registered, catalogued, handled, processed and stored according to the strict criteria and protocols established by the Museum’s Conservation and Restoration Department.

Cristóbal Balenciaga
Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre was born into a working-class family in the town of Getaria (Basque Country, Spain) on 21st January 1895. His father, a fisherman, died when Balenciaga was 11 years old. His mother, a figure of reference for Balenciaga, was a seamstress and worked for the Marquises de Casa-Torres family.

This meant that, from a very young age, Balenciaga was in contact with his mother’s trade, combined with the elegance and fine taste of the marchioness, who helped to encourage his talent and would become one of his first clients. By 1907 he appeared as a registered citizen of San Sebastián, where he started to learn the trade of tailor-making while working at a number of establishments with connections to Parisian fashion. At that time, the city was enjoying a heyday of tertiary economic activity, boosted by the seasonal presence of the court in summer and the tourist attraction of the Basque Coast.

At the age of 22, Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his first business, recorded in the industrial register under the heading of Couturier, paying a rate of tax corresponding to the highest category as C. Balenciaga, at the Calle Vergara No. 2. Within the year he had changed the corporate aspect of the entry to add new partners, the Lizaso sisters, in a limited society with a temporary period of six years, creating Balenciaga y Cía and maintaining the same business address.

After that time, in 1924, the association was dissolved and in its place, Cristóbal Balenciaga was registered, transferring operations to the Avenida No. 2. That year, his business was already employing 71 workers (68 women and 3 men). In March 1927 he created Martina Robes et Manteaux on the first floor of the Calle Oquendo 10 (Martina had been his mother’s name) as the second brand in a diversification strategy, which in October took on the new name of EISA Costura (yet again related to his mother’s surname, Eizaguirre).

The first company, Cristóbal Balenciaga, stayed open without interruption until 1937, the date on which he moved to Paris. The second, EISA Costura, diversified geographically to Madrid (1933) and Barcelona (1935) with the name of Eisa BE, while remaining in San Sebastian at Avenida no. 2.

But it is without a doubt his Parisian period which earned him his recognition as one of history’s most influential designers. Prompted by the Spanish Civil War, Balenciaga moved to Paris where he installed his salons at no. 10 Avenue George V. This decision not only gave him access to the most important fabric providers and to the biggest specialists in trades related to Haute Couture, it also brought him into contact with a cosmopolitan clientele of tremendous social, economic and cultural importance, throwing him into the spotlight of the international media.

Success accompanied him right from the presentation of his first collection in 1937 and his creations, based on comfort, pureness of lines, the reinterpretation of Spanish tradition and the development of innovative volumes, marked fashion in the central decades of the 20th century, until the year ’68, when Haute Couture started to lose weight in favour of prêt-à-porter, the moment Balenciaga decided to retire.

His precision, skill with technique and perfectionism earned him the admiration of his colleagues and contemporaries, like Christian Dior, who called him “the master of us all”, Hubert de Givenchy, who referred to him as “the architect of Haute Couture” or Coco Chanel, who qualified him as being “the only true couturier”.

But it is his capacity for innovation, in subtle and constant evolution, his knowledge of fabric, his sense of proportion and measurement, and his vision and interpretation of the female body that earned him veneration as one of the most influential designers of all times.

In his creative evolution, Balenciaga researched, experimented with, introduced and perfected different lines that changed the prevailing female silhouette, moving away from the socio-cultural norms of the time and gradually introducing higher degrees of abstraction. Focussing on the back, blurring the waistline, generating volumes and simplifying the cut.

This led to introduction of the “tonneau” line (1947), the “semi-fitted” look of 1951, the “balloon” skirts of 1953, the 1955 tunic, the 1957 “sack” dress or the “baby-doll” dress of 1958, moving towards the formal minimalism which characterises his creations of the following decade.

His own words would define his work as an artist: “a couturier must be an architect for plans, a sculptor for shapes, an artist for colour, a musician for harmony and a philosopher for the sense of proportion.”