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Cristóbal Balenciaga,  biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Cristóbal Balenciaga (2024)

“Cristóbal is the only real couturier among us”, Coco Chanel is quoted as saying prior to the second episode of this limited series. “The rest, we are simply fashion designers”. Such was the high regard held for Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga among his contemporaries that similar quotes preface following episodes. “When you saw his dresses, they seemed untouched”, effused Hubert de Givenchy. “They floated, they moved, they created mystery”. Even his chief rival Christian Dior judged that “Balenciaga is the master of us all”. It is fitting then that, amongst the recent spate of fashion designer biopics, Disney’s Cristóbal Balenciaga is the pièce de résistance. 

Framed by an interview the notoriously inaccessible Balenciaga gave shortly after the death of Coco Chanel, this series traces the couturier’s time in Paris from his arrival shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War through to his retirement thirty years later. Financed by exiled countryman Nicolás Bizcarrondo, whose business acumen makes up for his inexperience in the world of fashion, Balenciaga’s first collection fails to capture the imagination of the public. Consoling themselves, the two Spaniards view Picasso’s 'Guernica' at the Paris International Exposition and dryly note that, thanks to the Civil War, Spain is suddenly in vogue. Inspired by the art and fashion of his birthplace, Balenciaga’s next collection is a success... then the Nazi’s invade Paris. Thus begins Episode Two.

One of the primary strengths of this biopic is its concise narrative and plot development, with each episode neatly encapsulating a different stage in Balenciaga’s life. After dealing with the challenges faced by the homosexual fashion designer during Nazi occupation, the series seamlessly flows into his rivalry with Christian Dior before the following episode covers his association with Hubert de Givenchy. Threading her way into the story is Coco Chanel, who occasionally pops up to pass judgement on aspects of Balenciaga’s character that eventually come to a head in the final episodes. Anouk Grinberg’s sympathetic portrayal of the oft maligned Chanel is key to a fine ensemble cast, anchored by a commanding performance by Alberto San Juan in the title role.


Disney’s next venture into the subgenre of fashion designer biopics is Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, starring Daniel Brühl.

Alberto San Juan, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Anouk Grinberg, Coco Chanel, Adrien Dewitte
Hubert de Givenchy, Francis Leplay, Lucien LeLong, Armel Cazedepats, Philippe Venet

In a statement, the house of Balenciaga said it was keen to “encourage accuracy and ensure a compelling narrative to reflect Cristóbal Balenciaga's journey. However, the story remains fictional and a free interpretation of Disney+. Balenciaga is not accountable for exact accuracy, timeline nor artistic choices.”

Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Audrey Hepburn, Edith Head

No reference is made to the fashion designers' cinematic work

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