#315 Balenciaga



In the Founders podcast, the host delves into the remarkable legacy of the fashion icon Balenciaga, highlighting his unparalleled dedication to the craft of haute couture. Balenciaga, revered by peers like Christian Dior and Coco Chanel as the true master of couture, was known for his ability to design, cut, sew, and finish his creations, often doing so entirely by hand. Born in a small Spanish village in 1895, his skills were evident from a young age, and he maintained a lifelong commitment to his work, sewing every day for 74 years. His principles of comfort, permanence, and the finest materials led to timeless pieces so revered that they were passed down through generations. Despite his success, Balenciaga chose to retire when the cultural revolution of the 1960s compromised his standards of quality, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to excellence over trends.

Summary Notes

Private AMA Feed for Founders Podcast Enthusiasts

  • Speaker A highlights the benefits of studying great people and their work.
  • The private AMA feed is designed for enthusiasts who want to apply historical knowledge to their current projects.
  • Members can ask Speaker A questions directly via a private email address.
  • Questions from members are turned into short AMA episodes for collective learning.
  • Members can promote their work, potentially gaining new customers from the community.
  • Speaker A has made 33 episodes and plans to continue creating content regularly.
  • A new subscriber praised the focused nature of the questions and answers in the AMA.

"If you've been listening to founders for a while and you have not joined the private AMA feed, I really think you're missing out."

This quote emphasizes the value of joining the private AMA feed for dedicated listeners of the Founders podcast.

"I've actually already heard from people that have gotten new customers as a result of other AMA members hearing about their business from these episodes."

Speaker A shares the tangible benefits of participating in the AMA feed, including networking and business growth opportunities.

Balenciaga's Impact on Fashion and Entrepreneurial Podcasts

  • Speaker A is inspired by Balenciaga's dedication to his craft and plans to emulate his level of commitment in the entrepreneurial podcast space.
  • Balenciaga is recognized as one of the most original and creative couturiers in history.
  • Peers like Christian Dior and Coco Chanel praised Balenciaga's mastery and craftsmanship.
  • Balenciaga's ability to perform every aspect of his work set him apart in the fashion industry.
  • The early life of Balenciaga, including his mother's influence and his innate talent, is highlighted.

"Balenciaga was easily the most dedicated to the business of making beautiful things."

This quote summarizes Balenciaga's unparalleled commitment to his craft in the fashion industry.

"Christian Dior called Balenciaga the master of us all. And Coco Chanel said that Balenciaga was the only couture in the truest sense of the word, and that everybody else was simply a fashion designer."

Speaker A cites the high regard in which Balenciaga was held by his contemporaries, indicating his exceptional status in the fashion world.

The Early Life and Development of Balenciaga

  • Balenciaga was born in 1895 in Spain and displayed talent with a needle from a very young age.
  • His mother, a key figure in his life, taught him to sew and helped him develop his skills.
  • Balenciaga's dedication to his craft included sewing every day for 74 years.
  • His early work caught the attention of influential patrons, leading to apprenticeships and further learning.
  • The importance of acquiring unique skills within one's industry is discussed, with references to other historical figures.

"For the next 74 years, he could and did so superbly and kept his hand in by doing a piece of sewing every day of his life."

Speaker A emphasizes Balenciaga's daily dedication to sewing, which contributed to his mastery over time.

"Balenciaga's first product was for a cat. His first original work was a collar set with pearls for his cat."

The quote illustrates Balenciaga's humble beginnings and his early display of creativity and craftsmanship.

Mastery Through Practice and Unique Skills

  • Balenciaga's work ethic and the practice of his trade from a young age are highlighted as factors in his success.
  • His ability to work quickly and efficiently, especially under pressure, was a product of years of practice.
  • The quote from Paul Graham about being prolific is mentioned in relation to Balenciaga's and other creators' productivity.
  • The importance of practicing in private to achieve public praise is underscored.

"Experts as well as customers marveled at the speed he went about his work, especially the difficult business of fitting models."

Speaker A explains that Balenciaga's expertise, particularly in fitting models quickly, was admired by both peers and clients.

"He could cut and sew with either hand."

This quote reveals Balenciaga's unique ambidextrous ability, further setting him apart as a master couturier.

Early Career and Business Strategy

  • Balenciaga opened his first shop in San Sebastian, Spain, at age 24.
  • He strategically located his shop in an area frequented by high society, aligning with his goal to dress the very best.
  • Balenciaga's focus from the start was to target the upper echelon of customers.

"So he opened his first shop in San Sebastian on a coast more frequently by high society. Go to where your customers are. From the very beginning, he only wanted to dress the very best."

The quote highlights Balenciaga's strategic business move to open his shop in a high society area to attract affluent customers, emphasizing his ambition to cater to the top tier of society.

Expansion and Royal Patronage

  • Balenciaga's designs caught the attention of the Spanish royal family, enhancing his reputation.
  • He expanded his business by opening additional houses in Madrid and Barcelona, named Issa after his mother.
  • The business was a family affair, with relatives helping to run the operations.

"He was soon in demand at court in the spanish royal family, in the last phase of the spanish monarchy. Before its suspension in 1931. He was working for the queen."

This quote indicates the significance of Balenciaga's connection with the Spanish royal family, which played a crucial role in his early success and expansion.

Impact of Wars on Business

  • The Spanish Civil War forced Balenciaga to shut down his operations in Spain.
  • Balenciaga moved to Paris, the epicenter of the fashion industry, and continued his career there.
  • World War II also led to a temporary closure of his Paris fashion house.

"And so then the Spanish Civil War breaks out, and he's going to have to shut down. So he would be around early forty s at this point. And so he's got to figure out where to go."

This quote outlines the impact of the Spanish Civil War on Balenciaga's business and his subsequent decision to relocate to Paris, highlighting the resilience and adaptability in his career.

Parisian Success and Industry Center

  • Balenciaga presented his first collection in Paris at age 42 and quickly gained prestigious clients, including the Duchess of Windsor and Saks Fifth Avenue.
  • His fashion house became one of the major Parisian houses until his retirement in the late 1960s.
  • The concentration of talent in Paris is likened to Detroit's automotive industry in the early 1900s.

"For his second collection, he actually gets the Duchess of Windsor as a client. And then for his third collection the next year, Saks Fifth Avenue places a giant order."

This quote demonstrates Balenciaga's rapid ascent in the Parisian fashion world, securing high-profile clients and significant orders that solidified his status as a leading designer.

Balenciaga's Philosophy and Legacy

  • Balenciaga valued the principle of permanence in his designs, leading to their longevity and continued use across generations.
  • His approach contrasted with the current trends of the Balenciaga brand, which he may have found distasteful.

"One of his basic principles of the products that he made was the importance of permanence."

The quote reflects on Balenciaga's design philosophy, emphasizing the timelessness and durability of his creations, which is a testament to his legacy in fashion.

Economic Importance of Fashion Industry

  • The fashion industry was a significant exporter for France, with a courtier dress or perfume being able to fund the import of coal and gasoline.
  • Balenciaga was allowed to reopen his fashion house during WWII due to his connections with Francisco Franco.

"In 1938 and 1939, one exported courtier dress would pay for ten tons of imported coal, and a liter of exported perfume would pay for two tons of imported gasoline."

This quote reveals the unexpected economic impact of the fashion industry in France, illustrating how luxury goods were traded for essential resources.

Christian Dior's Emergence and Impact

  • Christian Dior took advantage of post-war conditions to launch his brand, emphasizing the importance of standing out to reach the top.
  • Dior and Balenciaga insisted on the highest quality from their subcontractors.
  • Dior's family background and personal interests shaped his path to becoming a fashion designer.

"But big thing that you're going to learn about Christian Dior is that you don't get to the top by fitting in. You need to stand out."

This quote encapsulates the ethos of Christian Dior's approach to fashion, highlighting the necessity of differentiation and innovation to achieve success in the industry.

Opportunity and Luck in Christian Dior's Career

  • Christian Dior's art gallery failed, leading to a pivotal change in his career path.
  • Dior took various jobs within the fashion industry while being on the fringes of it.
  • A stroke of fortune came when Dior met Marcel Boussac, which transformed his life and career.
  • Dior believed in luck and was influenced by fortune tellers.
  • Paul Graham emphasized the importance of luck in the creative process and the need to be a big target for luck through curiosity.

"Opportunity is a strange beast that frequently appears after a loss." This quote encapsulates the idea that failures can lead to unexpected opportunities, as it did for Dior after his art gallery failed.

"Dior certainly believed in luck." This quote highlights Dior's belief in luck, which played a significant role in his willingness to seize new opportunities.

Christian Dior's Meeting with Marcel Boussac

  • Dior met Marcel Boussac, a textile magnate known as the "king of cotton".
  • Boussac sought to give prestige to his textile business by owning a Paris fashion house.
  • Dior proposed a high-risk, high-reward plan to establish a luxury salon with the best craftsmen in Paris.

"I am not interested in managing a clothing factory. What you need and what I would like to run is a craftsman workshop... It will cost a great deal of money and entail much risk." Dior's response to Boussac showcases his ambition and vision for a luxury fashion house, emphasizing the need for high quality and craftsmanship.

The Success of Christian Dior's Fashion House

  • Dior's first collection, known as the "New Look", was a deliberate return to extravagant use of material.
  • The "New Look" was a massive success and went against the post-war trend of egalitarianism.
  • Dior's house employed 1000 experts and produced a significant volume of work, which increased the chance of success (surface area of luck).
  • The fashion house produced a variety of styles, understanding that the market would determine the successful designs.

"The success of the house was immediate and prolonged... During this decade, Dior sold over 100,000 dresses made from 16,000 design sketches and using 1000 miles of fabric." This quote demonstrates the prolific nature and massive success of Dior's work, establishing him as a leading figure in fashion.

The Dynamic Between Balenciaga and Dior

  • Balenciaga and Dior had different clienteles and levels of craftsmanship.
  • Balenciaga was considered superior in craftsmanship but did not view Dior as a rival.
  • Dior's success benefited the entire Parisian fashion industry, including Balenciaga.
  • Dior respected Balenciaga's skills and referred to him as "master".

"Balenciaga never commented on other designers... He certainly did not see Dior as a rival, and he had no fear that his own claims to excellence would ever be overlooked." This quote reflects the mutual respect and understanding between Balenciaga and Dior, with Balenciaga recognizing the overall benefit of Dior's success to the industry.

Devotion to Craft in Fashion

  • Balenciaga had a deep devotion to his craft, likening it to a religious vocation.
  • The dedication to fashion as an art form was paramount for both Balenciaga and Dior.
  • Personal relationships in the industry were significant, as seen when Dior encouraged Balenciaga to continue working after a personal loss.

"We need your example in all that is best in our trade." Dior's plea to Balenciaga emphasizes the importance of leading figures in setting standards and inspiring others within the fashion industry.

Founder's Influence on Company Aesthetics

  • Companies often take on the personality of their founders, including their headquarters.
  • Balenciaga's house in Paris resembled a church, reflecting his approach to business.
  • The design of a company's headquarters can be indicative of the founder's vision and values.

Balenciaga's house in Paris looked like a church, and they compare it to some of the other designers at the time, and some look like a London townhouse or something that's, like, warm and inviting.

The quote highlights the unique and intentional design of Balenciaga's headquarters, contrasting it with other designers' headquarters to emphasize the reflection of his personal style and business approach.

Balenciaga's Work Environment

  • The atmosphere at Balenciaga's was monastic, both architecturally and spiritually.
  • Communication was minimal and only necessary speech was allowed, in a hushed tone.
  • High security with restricted access even within the premises.
  • Balenciaga himself was elusive, contributing to myths about his existence.

When people visited, they said it was like entering a covenant... Security was intense... Customers, which were called patrons, were only allowed in by appointment.

This quote describes the strict and private environment of Balenciaga's workspace, highlighting the exclusivity and reverence with which his work was treated.

Balenciaga's Dedication to His Art

  • Balenciaga was committed to his work, avoiding publicity and society events.
  • He completed a high volume of designs per collection with few assistants.
  • His work ethic was characterized by noble silence and intense concentration.

His remoteness was not a pose, but part of his dedication to his art.

The quote underscores Balenciaga's genuine devotion to his craft, which was evident in his avoidance of the public eye and his intense work practices.

Balenciaga's Dressmaking Principles

Comfort and Confidence in Clothing

  • Balenciaga believed in creating clothes that were comfortable and boosted the wearer's confidence.
  • He aimed for his clothes to be a second skin to the wearer, reflecting his deep passion for his creations.

Balenciaga argued that if a woman was comfortable in her clothes, she was confident, and if she was confident, she was at her best and wore her clothes with style.

The quote conveys Balenciaga's philosophy that comfort in clothing is essential for confidence, which in turn enhances style.

Permanence of Design

  • Unlike other designers who frequently changed styles, Balenciaga's designs were timeless.
  • His evening dresses were investments that could be worn and treasured for generations.

A woman could buy one of them as an investment, because properly looked after, it would last forever.

This quote explains Balenciaga's principle of permanence, illustrating his aim for his dresses to be long-lasting and even bequeathed.

Importance of Material

  • Balenciaga placed great importance on the quality of materials used in his designs.
  • He collaborated with the best textile creators and embroiderers, recognizing their genius.
  • His appreciation for quality materials was akin to Steve Jobs' emphasis on quality people in companies.

World class products are going to contain world class ingredients.

The quote encapsulates Balenciaga's belief that the excellence of a product is determined by the quality of its components, drawing a parallel to the importance of people in great companies.

Craftsmanship and Legacy

  • Balenciaga's creations were handcrafted, emphasizing the human element in his work.
  • His meticulous process and attention to detail were recorded in company archives.
  • His legacy includes timeless designs and a dedication to craftsmanship that is rare in today's world.

The essence of his creation was the work of human hands, bringing into existence the images projected on paper from his powerful and inventive brain.

This quote emphasizes the importance of manual craftsmanship in Balenciaga's work, contrasting it with modern, technology-driven processes.

Balenciaga's Personal Life and Retirement

  • Balenciaga's mother played a significant role in his career, teaching him to sew at a young age.
  • He rejected trendy designs, focusing instead on timeless elegance.
  • His retirement was due to the absence of a suitable successor, and his dresses are now considered museum-worthy heirlooms.

Balenciaga has been genuinely regarded as the greatest dressmaker in the world.

The quote acknowledges Balenciaga's status as a master dressmaker, whose impact on fashion and dedication to his craft have left a lasting legacy.

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