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How Balenciaga Introduced Streetwear Codes to the World of Luxury

Exploring Demna Gvasalia’s singular impact on global style.

WRITER: CHRIS DANFORTH
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The story of Spanish fashion house Balenciaga begins in 1919, as the namesake of dressmaker Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre. Balenciaga established his eponymous label by opening a boutique in San Sebastián, followed by doors in Barcelona and Madrid. The Spanish Civil War forced Balenciaga to relocate to Paris, where his designs were celebrated even more so than in his home of Spain. His dressmaking skills and his ability to create patterns set him apart from other designers of the era, causing his contemporary Christian Dior to once famously refer to him as "the master of us all.”

Since 2001, Balenciaga has been operated by Kering, joining Gucci, Bottega Veneta and others under the conglomerate’s umbrella. Attempting to reinvigorate the Balenciaga brand for the 21st century, Kering explored a rotating cast of high-profile designers, including Nicolas Ghesquière, and briefly Alexander Wang, before naming Georgia-born Demna Gvasalia creative director in 2015.

Today Gvasalia weaves his attitudes and aesthetics into the tapestry of Balenciaga season after season from the house’s headquarters in Paris. Gvasalia, a graduate of esteemed fashion school the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, cut his teeth with Walter van Beirendonck, before joining Maison Margiela, where he worked on women’s collections until 2013. Gvasalia then spent time at Louis Vuitton before teaming up with his brother Guram to launch Vetements.

In 2015, Gvasalia joined Kanye West’s roster of Yeezy Season 1 designers, helping West fulfill his creative vision alongside Virgil Abloh, Matthew Williams, Heron Preston and Jerry Lorenzo. Gvasalia arrived at Balenciaga shortly after, joining the house as one of the most talked-about free agents in fashion. While his vision for Vetements was personal and intuitive, Balenciaga represented a new challenge: The need to balance the fashion house’s heritage and history, while implementing changes that would bring Balenciaga up to modern standards. 

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