If you’re a fan of high couture, the name Balenciaga needs no introduction. Founded by Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, it’s a brand that single-handedly captured the market in volume and elegance on its launch in 1917. Over a century later, it’s still one of the biggest names in the biz. You might need a few million in the bank to shop there, but if you do, you’re guaranteed the kind of closet that’s the envy of billions. As with all great labels, Balenciaga boasts a logo that’s instantly recognizable to its customer base. Over the years, it’s undergone a few makeovers, with the latest happening not so long ago in 2017. If you’ve ever noticed the logo and wondered what its story is, you’re not the only one. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place to find out the answer.
The History of the Brand
Before we get too involved in the history of the logo, a brief history of the brand might be called for. It all started in 1917 when a Spanish designer by the name of Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his first boutique in San Sebastián, Spain. His impeccable designs and outrageously good taste soon won him favor with the rich and the famous, not to mention several members of the Spanish royal family.
But then the Spanish Civil War broke out. With his customers in fight or flight mode, Balenciaga was forced to shut the doors on his Spanish operation and beat a hasty retreat to France. As it turned out, it was the best career move he ever made. Once installed in Paris, Balenciaga set about re-grouping. By 1937, he’d managed to pull things together enough to open a couture house on Avenue George V. Over the next few decades, he set about redesigning women’s fashion from the ground up. The unique aesthetic of his designs captured the hearts and imaginations of legions of women, with some of his most famous clients including Pauline de Rothschild, Bunny Mellon, Marella Agnelli, Hope Portocarrero, Gloria Guinness, Jackie Kennedy, and Mona von Bismarck. His inspired take on high couture, meanwhile, effectively revolutionized the industry. Although Balenciaga retired from fashion in the late 60s, he’s still remembered as one of the greatest designers of all time.
After Balenciaga retired in 1968, the fashion house remained dormant for two decades. In 1986, Jacques Bogart S.A. acquired the rights to the name, releasing the first Balenciaga ready-to-wear line, “Le Dix” soon after. Several years later, it came under new ownership when Kering bought up the label. Despite several changes in ownership, Balenciaga is today still very much the same fashion house Cristóbal Balenciaga created all those years ago. It may make more from its motorcycle-inspired handbags than it does its dress, but it’s still best known as a brand whose futuristic, avant-garde pieces manage to straddle the elusive divide between ready wear and high couture.
From Cristóbal to Alexander Wang
When Cristóbal first developed Balenciaga, he clearly didn’t believe the future lay in logo-emblazoned t-shirts. Rather than spend his time worrying about what emblem best fit the brand concept, his simply signed his creations with his own name instead. As icon-icon.com notes, the logo included on the tags of his garments included only the design, the designer’s last name, and ‘Maison de Paris’.
When the brand was taken over in the 80s, it was decided that a new logo was in order. In keeping with Cristóbal’s original vision, the logo was kept simple: a mirrored double B was introduced – a clean, elegant design that suited the tone of the fashion house perfectly. And thus, it remained. Over the next couple of decades, Balenciaga saw many different designers come and go but the logo stayed much the same. All that changed in 2015 when Alexander Wang stood down as artistic director and Demna Gvasalia stepped up to the plate.
Demna Gvasalia and the New Look
When fashion provocateur Demna Gvasalia took over from Alexander Wang as artistic director at Balenciaga, the world sat up. While Wang was a known quantity, Gvasalia was anything but. He may have done great things as the senior designer of women’s ready-to-wear collections at Louis Vuitton and his own brand Vetements was most definitely ‘interesting’, but was a designer with a reputation for creating ‘subversive fashion’ really the right fit for an established brand like Balenciaga? As it turned out, the fears were groundless. Of all the designers to head up the house, Gvasalia’s MO is most in line with that of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s. He shares the same ability to manipulate fabric into fabulous forms, the same preference for deconstructed garments, and the same ability to look to the future for design inspiration. The only thing he doesn’t have in common with the late, great Cristóbal, in fact, is his preference for a subtle logo.
When Gvasalia took over the reins at Balenciaga, he ushered in a new era for the fashion house – one with a very different face to the one it had been wearing until then. After deciding that the old emblem needed a makeover, he set the design team of Mirko Borsche and Gian Gisiger the task of creating a new Balenciaga logotype. As bureauborsche.com writes, the aim of the game was to design a new, simple, timeless wordplate that gave a contemporary spin on the classic Balenciaga logo. The inspiration for the end product was found on the signage in a Paris metro station – an odd place to take inspiration from, perhaps, but one that Gisiger and Borsche have credited with helping them create the crisp, minimalistic look of the new logo.
“Conceived in-house, the development process was inspired by the clarity of public transportation signage. The result is a visually shortened logo which gives a simple, bold stamp to the timeless deluxe Balenciaga signature,” Balenciaga confirmed in a statement prior to its launch.
Since debuting at the women’s spring ready-to-wear show in 2017, the logo has been seen, quite literally, everywhere. Although Gvasalia’s recent collections of ready wear have remained relatively logo-free, he knows exactly where to apply it to its best advantage – namely, on the products that shift the highest volume. “Balenciaga is a house that makes clothes first and foremost,” he says via luxuryabode.com. “But I cannot ignore the things people want to buy. I can show a collection full of evening wear, but it would be hypocritical because that’s not what people buy; that’s not what they have money for. They want to buy sneakers and they want to buy T-shirts. This is not something anybody can change, but I also don’t think a branded T-shirt is any kind of offense to luxury. The hardest thing to achieve in a modern, evolving brand is finding the right balance between the business and the dignity of the brand.” Thanks to knowing exactly where and when to bring out the power of the logo, few would argue he hasn’t achieved it.