12 September 2010

BALENCIAGA : Masterful Interiors



10 avenue George V, designed by architect A.L.Voisvenel in 1887

from the eulogy delivered by Father Robert Pieplu, BALENCIAGA's parish priest:

...because he had looked at the magnificent sea at Guetaria, had roamed the village streets in his childhood, had been used to the harmony of things, had weighed the color of the setting sun or of the dawn... he had understood that in order to be comfortable, harmonious, one must live in accord with one's environment; that is why he created his models according to where they would live.


BALENCIAGA's consistent eye for harmony sought suitability in all his interiors -whether in his workplace or at home. Style, too, was to play its part in the interiors of Balenciaga- his references to his fellow Spaniards' art in his design aesthetic is equally evident in these spaces. Along with furniture- the strokes of Goya, Velasquez, Zuburan, Miro and Picasso reside there. The opulent shock of a matador's cloak, the simplicity of a monk's habit, the austerity of a monastery find a harmony in the world the Master BALENCIAGA  inhabited.


an invitation to one of the collections



 in the Boutique
10 . Avenue George V

Balenciaga arriving at the Boutique of the House(ground floor)

photograph Gyenes

Located on the ground floor of BALENCIAGA, Christos Bellos designed the Boutique space in 1948- when the House expanded to the first floor level of the neoclassical A. L.Voisvenel designed building.  A few accessories were styled and shown in the Boutique for purchase-scarves, bags, perfume.

The floors of the  Boutique were laid in a checkered pattern with black and white marble. Tall chairs of red Spanish Cordoba leather, marble top tables in dark wood, gilded wall sconces and chandelier presented a grand Spanish atmosphere in a very Parisian building. Just beyond the leather chairs, a glass door-concealing a lift padded in red Cordoba leather took clients to the third level Salon.

rich leathers and damask with Spanish furniture,
opulent upholstery and curtains with scalloping hems and pelmets

The Salon

Accessing the Salon, located on the 1st floor-via lift-clients walked down a long corridor to the Main Salon. Stucco arabesques were fitted around doors and windows. The walls were white; the carpets a pale gray. Nothing in the decor was to disturb the clothes. Gold salon chairs for clients lined the walls and heavy marble ashtrays on gilt stands perched in front of the chairs created a separation between the model and client.

Mark Shaw photographs of The Balenciaga Salon

The other spaces in the House were reserved for the private scenes of a Maestro and his acolytes at work. Simple. Austere. The studio, ateliers, and offices were quite- a reverence pervaded. Assistant to BALENCIAGA, Courreges spoke of a workshop that was 'pure white, unornamented, and intensely silent.'

an atelier on the premises with Monsieur in attendance
photo Kublin, 1960.

favorite model Colette in the Grand Salon, 1937 
photographer Luigi Diaz

from El Diario Vascxo, August 25,1972 article by Jose Maria Arielza:

His fashion house had a curious monastic seal, in which there was no room for loud and outspoken people, nor for laughter and disorder. Everything was done in an atmosphere of silence and efficiency: fashion shows, work, rehearsals. Even among his models there was a sign of restraint, nor airs or graces. To see his show was to be present at a pure aesthetic spectacle, reverent and organized.

Avenue Marceau, Paris

in his study at the Avenue Marceau, late 1950's
photograph -Cecil Beaton (collection of Sothebys)

BALENCIAGA was a collector of leather bound volumes of books, 19th century fashion plates, modern drawings and bronzes. These collections were housed at the Avenue Marceau. Cecil Beaton also recalled collections of rock crystal, Chinese porcelain, old silver and 18th century furniture. Among his possessions-seascape paintings-one in particular- a Braque painting of a grey sea with a small fishing vessel- looked much like his own childhood village on the Cantabrian coast.

couture at home on Avenue Marceau
Clifford Coffin photograph of Mrs.William Klein,1948

(there are discrepancies in where this photograph was taken-
a photographic collection of Coffin's work is sited here.
according to another source the photograph was taken at couture House.)

in Spain


In his homeland of Spain, BALENCIAGA had three fashion Houses that were operating-in addition to his Paris one. The EISA label- followed many of the Master's designs and cut of the clothes showing in BALENCIAGA's Paris. San Sebastian, Barcelona and Madrid were the cities where his Spanish clients lived, played, ruled- and he was there to see that they had BALENCIAGA at their polished fingertips every moment of the day. At one time or another, artisans, seamstresses, apprentices were working in or training at one of these locations and in Paris as well.   

The 1942 EISA House in Barcelona was at calle Santa Teresa, 10. A two story house, the ground floor was done up for fashion shows, with the fitting rooms on the 1st floor. Living space was also on this floor- a terrace, kitchen, bath, drawing room, dining room and bedroom.

photographed by a friend in the cloisters at Fiteira in Spain, the late 1960's

From Goya ,of course, came the prettiness of black lace and satin ribbons, but what of the spumes of frosted embroideries, the showers of mother of pearl, the pale slightly-stiffened silks layered in silver and gold so that you did not know which moved first, the dress or the light? (referencing the village of Guetaria, on the northern coast of Spain, Balenciaga's birthplace.) 
                                                                                                -Pauline de Rothschild



The Madrid EISA, photographed by Juan Gyenes below, had a more casual straightforward interior than the Paris house. Chairs are simple folding things. Heavy framed mirrors, simple curtains and lanterns finish off the decor. Flowers were used to enhance perfumes shown and sold in the space. Fabrics were draped on surfaces, pattern and sample books were left open- a no nonsense working state seems to have been part of EISA in Spain.

BALENCIAGA with a model in Madrid-
Gyenes photograph from the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, Madrid.

A ravenous antique collector, BALENCIAGA spent hours scouring the Rastro Market in Madrid amassing furniture, antique Spanish rugs and other treasures. Spanish bronze keys and a collection of ivory bilboquet-a Spanish court game where part of his collections, along with collecting black pearls-a passion shared by his friend Picasso. 



As you look you see the swatches of a Balenciaga collection, rain-washed blues, grays with a greenish tinge. The weather has in places washed the dark brown wood to pale coffee, to white, and sometimes left a harsh metallic blue...The eye that chose so much for us knew the beauty of the black hills in Atlantic mists, black against eggshell, against brown.
                                                                                                 - Pauline de Rothschild

Here-to Igueldo-Balenciaga retired. He had come to this house often over the years. Mostly bare white washed walls predominated in the rooms. Low ceilings with exposed beams dominated the Dining Room. The room was filled with beautiful highly polished Spanish furniture, Spanish silver, faience, simple patterned curtains, many iron candle holders, a religious painting and a pair of lamps & mirror on the simple mantel.

Gyenes photograph from the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, Madrid.

In BALENCIAGA's bedroom his mother's sewing machine stood in front of a mantel holding a painted wooden crucifix and figures of saints or apostles. On the walls a pair of carved wood mirrors hang and figured curtains cover the windows.  In the Gyenes photograph clothes are tossed on sofas- the room was used and certainly not styled for a photograph.

Gynes photograph from the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, Madrid.

At the age of 77 BALENCIAGA died of heart failure. It is recorded that he owned three private properties in Spain- his Igueldo residence, a flat in Madrid, another in Barcelona- in France- a Paris flat and an estate near Orleans. He was buried in his childhood village of Guetaria. Pauline de Rothschild described his resting place:

His tomb is the highest of two BALENCIAGA family plots, looking out toward the vineyards and the sea and one lone beautiful pine tree. BALENCIAGA's tomb is particularly ugly. Slab upon slab of gray granite, and a standing headstone of granite topped by an ill-shaped cross. It promises total blindness and deafness. Solid, expensive, it needs no upkeep,, no gestures of fondness, it doesn't allow for weeds.

What is he doing there, the austere voluptuary who so often gave us Cinderella's three dresses, one the color of the weather, the other the color of the moon, the third the color of the morning sun? He would be happier with the poor further down, lucky to lie under the green grass, who only require black cast-iron crosses of delicate patterns with the green of the grass showing through...


Unlike today-when photograph after photograph of designers homes are spreads in magazines and books, few photographs exist of the homes and ateliers of BALENCIAGA. It is fitting-He was a very private man. What we have to remember him by are His sometimes beguiling, sometime monastic-
always impeccable- Artistry.

1963 Summer Collection -in the Grand Salon
photograph by  Kublin

BALENCIAGA Lesley Ellis Miller , THE WORLD OF BALENCIAGA, The Met, BALENCIAGA PARIS Pamela Golbin, BALENCIAGA Marie-Andree Jouve, The Costume Institute Metropolitan Museum

other Little Augury posts about Balenciaga here          
Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquiere's interiors here at Domicidal Maniac
Balenciaga bio here
Balenciaga this fall here



  1. He was the greatest of geniuses, and belongs in the tripartate pantheon of couture, with Dior and Chanel. No wonder the Countess Bismarck took to her bed when he closed the doors of the House of Balenciaga. LA, m'dear, this is a brilliant post, and a delicious tour of the gowns and interiors of one of the masters of taste of the 20th century. Reggie

  2. Stunning, stunning stunning! I have always wanted to do a post on Balenciaga but have not have had the nerve, as he IS the master! You have done him justice with this post. I bow down!

  3. I love when you take historic portraits and compare them to today's fashions or interiors. Thank you.

  4. He understood the power of Glamour, as did so many designers of his days -both in his clothing designs and the environments he showcased them in. One can almost smell the aura of cigarette smoke and heavy perfume.

  5. Wow! Thanks for the trip!
    I agree, I too love it when you give us history and art and relate it to another generation or century. Always enlightening and i am in awe of your eclectic posts..I.e. One that follows, Rita. Great posts to begin the week. Thank you.


  6. You really outdid yourself with this one! To me he was always the most elegant of designers...nobody did coats like he did. Thanks for the memories!

  7. Brillant posting and breathtaking gowns! Even speaking his name seems to create magic! And I was so moved by the photo with his mother's sewing machine -- carefully set in front of the altar. A man of his deep spiritual roots -- a priest of the cloth -- and of the fabric of life.

  8. Dear Gaye,

    This is truly long overdue, and of course, you are the one who worked so hard.

    One day, your little booklets that capture the Brilliant colors of Yesterdays heroes may be for sale on the PARTHENIA site?

    You have truly captured the MASTER.

    'LA MANGA'...'The Sleeve' translated, his obsession of perfection. The roominess of his coats, the sculptural aspect of his dresses, ALL still so NOW!


  9. Reggie, I have some wonderful photographs of Mona in her Balenciaga shorts, and other creations. Isn't that the Best Story?

  10. BarBara, JRG, thank you-this is the aspect of researching anything that I most enjoy-there is nothing new is there-really, certainly to my mind nothing that does not reference something truly great and executed in the Best of taste.

  11. David- I have Been working my way to it for some time-it is a little sketchy in places. I thought I have information on the mural in the Coffin photograph-I must have just imagined it, as I could find nothing when finishing this up. thank you for the compliment. as you can see from my other esteemed readers- great minds think alike! pgt

  12. Stefan- Oh! that's good!"One can almost smell the aura of cigarette smoke and heavy perfume."

    LindaAraxa- glad you like the post, we are all in firm agreement-Yes, on this one.

  13. Teacats, glad you stop-I couldn't agree more on the sewing machine placement-He must have felt it was all an altar of sorts Your "a priest of the cloth" is just a perfect expression on what he set out to Be, thank you for enriching this post.pgt

  14. Regina, I dedicate this one to you,and your encouragement. this post is overdue, I would love to find more things to tie in to this discussions. Looking for details has led me to a few little augurs. I would love to do a sort of something to print someday. Gaye

  15. from my dear Dorothy, she says "Gaye That was absolutely fabulous you gave us a whole story and there is no doubt..He was the greatest.. .. I loved those two colors of the grey and the eggshell? beautiful ..so subtle and quietly elegant. and how he borrowed from the monk's Lovely .. However did you put it together?" Thank you Dorothy
    (READERS- She should know-she is one of the most stylish elegant ladies I have ever known)

  16. all perfectly breathtaking (the post, itself, is a masterwork)

  17. What a wonderfully beautiful window into such an artistic life! Thank You for the inspiration. Remarkable!

  18. Your juxtaposition with the Goya and Zurbaran paintings is very interesting. If Goya had lived 120 years later, I imagine he would have been painting women in Balenciaga's dresses. As someone with relatively little knowledge of fashion or its history, I still see in Balenciaga's designs totally unique artistic talent, and overall I find the work of no other 20th century fashion designer so close to my idea of perfection.

  19. Brilliant post---lovely gowns, enviable rooms...

  20. victoria, ded, so good of you both! thanks.

    cyclogenisis- thanks, I wish there were more information to work with.

    Anon-(taking a little bow here)

  21. bruce, I think his was true artistry. there are good designers - few real artists in their world that are comparable to these painters mentioned. He is inspiring.

  22. Harrison,Yes- I can see a any of these flocking to paint Balenciaga- Your comment "there is no other 20th century fashion designer so close to my idea of perfection"- Is close to perfection. He was called the Master & -that is still quite right. pgt

  23. I will second the cheers and give you a standing Ovation on this post.

  24. Once again, you MUST buy yourself a copy of Francine du Plessix Grey's "October Blood"... Balenciaga throughout!

    When Hamish Bowles came to SF a few months ago to talk about the exhibit coming here next spring, he mentioned that the Balenciaga house models were actually "terrifying". They were supposed to be ugly and intimidating so that people would only notice the clothes...

  25. thank you Anon! appreciate that.

    Ms P&C, Done- how did I miss that directive about du Plessix Grey! I did get a recommended Once and Again recently. Now I have the October blood on its way- a good hardcover 1st ed. I think I shall want to cherish it. Thank you so much for the recommendation. I hope I can get to see the NYC Hamish curated show. thank you again, Gaye

  26. P&C, it is You AW Poetic and Chic! No I am a little slow-thus little augury-Now I know, and again thanks for the recommendation! pgt

  27. i have been to his house in the basque country...

    a museum now.

    it is on one of my favourite parts of the basque coast.

    it sits high on the hill, modest, looking out to the sea

  28. land air sea- How wonderful- I would love such a trip, now another reason . I am so happy you let me know. Gaye

  29. Anything and Everything Balenciaga is inspiring.
    Thank you!

  30. One of your very best posts, Gaye! Illuminating and inspiring and
    so beautifully presented.
    Oh, and I like the new look of the blog page!

  31. As you know I adore Balenciaga!!! Great post!

  32. Elizabeth-good to have you Back to Blogging,
    & Lucindaville- All devotees welcome & there are many distinguished ones here.

    Mr. Worthington, thank you for observing & complimenting some of the page changes. Balenciaga inspired-I am seemingly on a tear. pgt

  33. PGT - If you don't get to the NYC show, Hamish is bringing it to SF in 2011... The perfect time to plan a trip to be a flaneur round these parts with me and Vicki Thorne...


  34. Dear Gaye, I adored this post. It's brilliantly put together and what amazing pictures. That was fascinating and I learnt a lot. Thank you so much. You are wonderful xx

  35. I would love to know more about Christos Bellos's interiors. Do you have any references?
    Many thanks

  36. to everyone, thank you for your comments. I would love more information on him if anyone comes into something please share. pgt

    Anon. I do not. The resources for CB are even limited for me. I would love to find more photographs and descriptions. Good luck with you search! pgt



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