The son of a fisherman and a seamstress, Cristóbal Balenciaga began working for a tailor when he was 12. A local noblewoman noted his talent and sent him to train in Madrid, where he learned to cut, drape and fit his own patterns — skills that would wow fellow designers for the rest of his life. Balenciaga set up his couture shop in 1937, and in the 1950s he dramatically reinvented the female silhouette by broadening the shoulders and removing the waist, as seen in his enduring creations like the tunic dress, chemise dress, baby-doll dress and balloon skirt. His influence lives on not just in his own fashion house (now run by Nicolas Ghesquière) but also in his former students and apprentices. Oscar de la Renta, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy are among his mentees.
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