As a new film about the legendary Spanish designer hits the small screen… How to bag a Balenciaga-style bargain

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Balenciaga Autumn/ Winter ¿23

He dressed Grace Kelly and Wallis Simpson. Cecil Beaton compared his creative genius with that of Picasso, while Coco Chanel and Christian Dior revered him.

‘The King Is Dead!’ read the Women’s Wear Daily headline announcing his death in 1972.

And now, the life of the secretive Spanish designer, regarded as the master of Parisian haute couture, is the subject of a new six-part Disney+ series — simply called Cristóbal Balenciaga. It sheds light not just on the scandals of his life, but on just how much fashion owes to him.

He abhorred logos and instantly recognisable motifs, so there’s no Balenciaga equivalent of a Chanel boucle jacket or Lady Dior bag.

Yet so many of the items we take for granted today — the funnel neck, the cape dress — were his creations.

Here is our guide on how to get the Balenciaga look — on a budget.

GREATEST CAPES

Balenciaga Autumn/ Winter ’23

Dress, £116, karenmillen.com

Dress, £116, karenmillen.com

Balenciaga’s Autumn/ Winter ’23 show won extraordinary attention, not least because it was the house’s first since the advertising scandal that engulfed it in 2022.

A return to an iconic Balenciaga creation — the cape dress — seemed sensible.

Models stormed the runway in artfully draped designs of which the house’s founder would surely have approved.

A scarlet Balenciaga cape dress comes in at £8,850 today. Goodness. The Karen Millen £116 version might have to do, instead.

SPIN A COCOON 

A model in a balloon-style Balenciaga dress in the Disney+ series

A model in a balloon-style Balenciaga dress in the Disney+ series

Cocoon coat, £99, winserlondon.com

Cocoon coat, £99, winserlondon.com

The ‘New Look’ Dior popularised in the 1950s was characterised by hourglass shapes that made for a hyper-feminine silhouette.

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Balenciaga, with his naturally disruptive style, kicked back with his balloon-style cocoon coat and babydoll dress.

These were sculptural not restrictive; form-framing rather than straight-jacketing.

In the Disney+ series, we see a model in a monochrome balloon dress that would have required the kind of architectural skills that Sir Christopher Wren needed for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Strange to think the obliteration of the waistline was so controversial at the time. Cocoon shapes are fundamentals of high street collections today. 

A Balenciaga cocoon coat costs about £3,000, but head to Winser London for a flattering version in the sale for £99, and available in three colours.

ROLL WITH IT

Balenciaga stand-up collar in the Disney+ series

Balenciaga stand-up collar in the Disney+ series

Sweater, £15, hm.com

Sweater, £15, hm.com

With the roll neck, Balenciaga did for women’s turkey wattles in the 1950s what top surgeons on Harley Street do for them today. He nipped and tucked, but through fabric. He was known for his obsessive precision. And turkey wattle or not, there’s an unrivalled joy in wearing what is effectively a built-in scarf through the winter months.

A roll neck sweater on Balenciaga’s website is priced at £2,290. At that price, you might as well go to Harley Street. But worry not: the high street is teeming with the things. H&M has a boxy roll neck in a vivid cerise, reduced to just £15 (hm.com).

ROCK THE BOAT (NECK) 

Boatneck dress in the Disney+ series

Boatneck dress in the Disney+ series

Boatneck cashmere sweater, £130, boden.co.uk

Boatneck cashmere sweater, £130, boden.co.uk

Meghan Markle’s wedding dress wasn’t designed by Balenciaga, but it could have been. This is no coincidence: for it was Givenchy, a fashion house whose founder was Balenciaga’s protégé.

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The structure of Meghan’s dress — the way it stood away from the body rather than skimming it — and boat neck was so Balenciaga.

The designer popularised the neckline as an alternative, for older clients, to Dior’s strapless designs. It allowed them to show a hint of shoulder without baring all.

It remains a subtly elegant look today. Nicole Kidman attended Balenciaga’s A/W ’24 show last December in a boat-necked coat dress.

Boden’s boat neck sweaters (£130, boden.co.uk), make a versatile wardrobe staple.

BOW DOWN 

Nicole Kidman wears a Balenciaga dress laden with bows, September 2023

Nicole Kidman wears a Balenciaga dress laden with bows, September 2023

Mules, £745, Balenciaga at luisaviaroma.com mules Zara¿s £35.99 version (zara.com

L-R: Mules, £745, Balenciaga at luisaviaroma.com; mules Zara’s £35.99 version (zara.com)

Balenciaga had to manipulate fabric with geometric precision in order for it to hold the elaborate shapes he so loved.

Outsize bows were the ultimate test of this geometry. The one that adorned the back of his 1965 Tulip dress, for example, required origami-like engineering.

Nicole Kidman opted for a Balenciaga gown dripping in bows for a film premiere last September — a bespoke version of a dress seen on the fashion house’s A/W ’23 haute couture runway. 

Bows adorn the brand’s shoes, too. You can find an homage to Balenciaga’s £745 bow mules at Zara for £35.99.

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