HomeFashionCristóbal Balenciaga, Disney+ review: fashion icon is forced into a narrative straightjacket

Cristóbal Balenciaga, Disney+ review: fashion icon is forced into a narrative straightjacket

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Everything comes back into fashion eventually, including fashion itself: after the House of Gucci movie in 2021, this year Apple TV+ launches The New Look, starring Ben Mendelsohn and Juliette Binoche as Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, and before that we have Disney+ tottering down the catwalk with Cristóbal Balenciaga, a six-part, Spanish language homage to the venerable Spanish dressmaker.

A confession: when I think “Balenciaga” I think of twerps in hovercraft trainers or Instagram users overpaying for a word they can’t pronounce printed on a bucket hat. That said, the decline of a once-hallowed name into a brand is a part of the story here, as we go from Balenciaga’s (a resolute Alberto San Juan) arrival on the Paris scene in the 1930s through to his struggles getting hold of fabrics during the war, the commercial challenge of pret-a-porter, competition from the New Look and so on. 

Essentially his is a familiar tale of art being slowly poisoned by commerce. Branding, it turns out, is everything: having fought to establish his identity (both in himself and in his work), the story is of how Balenciaga tried, and ultimately failed, to control it. Hence the daft £2,000 trainers. Never at any point is Balenciaga’s genius as a designer questioned: instead the series is looking to showcase brilliance rather than cast aspersions, and when things go wrong for Maison Balenciaga it is almost always external forces that are to blame. 

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