‘Cristobal Balenciaga’ Ending Explained & Series Recap: Did Cristobal Shut Down Maison Balenciaga?

Cristobal Balenciaga is a Spanish-French biographical drama miniseries encapsulating the life and times of the celebrated fashion designer from San Sebastian, Spain, who found his foothold in Paris. The six episodes cover the trials and tribulations faced by Cristobal Balenciaga and his team after the outbreak of the war. Cristobal Balenciaga covers the demands his team had to keep up with post-war in the modern world to remain relevant.

Spoilers Ahead


Who Was Cristobal Balenciaga?

The show opens with Cristobal Balenciaga already established as one of the most prominent faces of the fashion world in Spain and Paris since the 1920s. Coco Chanel was ruling the fashion world in the most iconic city in the world, while her close friend and competitor, Cristobal Balenciaga of San Sebastian, was gaining a foothold because of his innovative designs. He initially began as someone who would take inspiration from other design houses. Soon, he created a niche of his own but was finding it difficult to showcase his style. His lover, Władzio Jaworowski d’Attainville, and business investors, Nicolás Bizcarrondo and Virgilia Mendizábal, were having a hard time getting the elite to care about Balenciaga’s work, but thanks to Coco Chanel and her favorite magazine editor, Carmel Snow, they drew in an audience, and thus began his journey as the most sought-after fashion designer.

The entire mini-series was conveyed from the point of view of Cristobal Balenciaga, a septuagenarian, giving an interview to Prudence Glynn, the editor-in-chief of a leading fashion magazine. It was the first time Cristobal willingly spoke to the media in detail about his life. Cristobal was known to have kept the media away from his personal life and believed his work should speak rather than his face.


Why Was Wartime Difficult For Cristobal And His Team?

The German army invaded France in the 1940s; it was the peak of the Second World War, and many fashion houses were on the verge of closing as the German army was considering moving all the fashion houses to Berlin. Many fashion houses refused to do so and stayed back to work with the Nazis to stay out of trouble. Cristobal had to rely on getting fabric from Spain for his collection, and he had a tough time going back and forth with the German army keeping a close eye on him and other non-Frenchmen. The politics of Spain and Germany also affected their commute. Besides that, the German women had a disdain for how fashionable the French women were. Władzio wanted to question the status quo and tried to do something different for Cristobal’s next collection. Cristobal added out-of-the-box-designed hats with every new outfit, which did not fit right with German officers, who considered it a threat. As a result of m the German army getting offended, Cristobal’s Maison Balenciaga was closed for three months, and it put the designer on the back foot. Coco Chanel sustained her business by courting a German army officer.


What Was The Depth Of The Rivalry Between Cristobal And Christian Dior?

His ongoing rivalry with Coco Chanel was a known fact, but his new rival was Christian Dior. Christian Dior was a media-friendly person who would allow interviews and indulge photographers for the brand’s publicity. As Christian Dior was foraying into producing more than just clothes, Cristobal’s team also pushed him into being photographed for the first time to sell their range of perfumes. Cristobal was getting used to the new world post-war as the demands in the high fashion sector were increasing, and his team believed he had to look beyond clothing to sustain his brand.

Cristobal faced tragedy when his partner Władzio died of a stroke, and the designer was close to shutting down his fashion house due to his bereavement and considering never coming back to fashion. Christian Dior encouraged him to come back to the field. Dior admitted having felt competitive, and said his fashion house would be incomplete without Maison Balenciaga. This encouraged Cristobal to come up with a new collection, which again was a success.


Was Cristobal Happy To Be Hubert Givenchy’s Mentor?

After Europe, Balenciaga gained a foothold in America and witnessed plenty of cheap knockoffs of his designs being sold at half the price, a phenomenon that disturbed him. He wanted a minimal media presence in his preview to avoid his designs getting stolen and being hawked in different parts of the world. Cristobal and his then-favorite designer, Hubert Givenchy, were the first to ban media from attending the previews.

Givenchy and Balenciaga had become fast friends as the former adored the man for the creative genius that he was and the fact that he willingly mentored him and explained the realities of the high fashion world. Cristobal spending time with Hubert was not accepted by Nicolas, who was under the belief that the designer was sleeping with the enemy. Soon Nicolas and Cristobal drifted apart as business partners; the latter’s decision to keep media at bay from the preview shows was the last straw. Nicolas left the company, and as a result, Virgilla had to leave halfheartedly as well.


How Did Wedding Gown Sketches Of The Queen Of Belgium Leak?

Balenciaga was assigned to design the wedding gown of the Belgian Queen Fabiola, and this was a big task for the man who had previously designed custom couture for many royals of England. Before he could begin his work, the news of Christian Dior’s death broke, which put Cristobal in an awful state of mind, and he questioned his mortality as well. The initial designs for Fabiola were too traditional, as stated by the royal bride-to-be. The final dress was different from the usual bridal gowns. Unfortunately for Cristobal, his crusade against the media backfired as the drawings of the dress were leaked. Cristobal was furious, but his team was sure the leak did not happen from their end. Fabiola was livid about the as well, but she was sure it happened at her mother’s or sister’s end, as they may have spoken to someone about her dress. Cristobal’s friendship with Coco Chanel had a trajectory. There was envy, but they respected each other and were in awe of their competitive nature. They had a public spat over Cristobal not wanting to do a photoshoot with her for a magazine before the royal wedding. This spat turned nasty, and it may be assumed this would be their last meeting before she passed away.


Why Was Cristobal Not In Favor Of ‘Pret-O-Porter’?

Cristobal came from a generation of dressmakers who would customize and stitch the dress as per the measurements given by the customer. It was an individualized business model that was working for many major fashion houses, like Balenciaga. High fashion aimed to cater to the elite and not the women who drew monthly salaries.

Many of the fashion houses started going for the pret-o-porter style, where they would release designs that would be ready to wear for women of various body sizes. Cristobal, being in his seventies, had a tough time getting to grips with the idea and was initially strongly against it as he believed his collection was to be one of a kind and not to be mass-produced. Cristobal had a tough time coming to terms with this style of fashion because his age and his past did not allow him to move ahead with fast-changing fashion trends.

Cristobal was approached by Air France to design their stewardess costume, and the man initially struggled with it. The designer had a meltdown at the factory after the design was finalized and mass-produced. Cristobal had come face-to-face with the real image of how pret-o-porter worked, and the purist in him could not deal with the machines producing clothes instead of seamstresses at the atelier working hard to finish custom couture one piece at a time. The meltdown could be because of his age and experience, followed by the shock of what he witnessed at the Air France factory. Cristobal eventually could come to terms with this approach to fashion and agreed to open a pret-o-porter style for Maison Balenciaga as well, making Ramon Esparza the first head of the division.


Did Cristobal Shut Down Maison Balenciaga?

The last half an hour of the finale was about Cristobal’s interview with Prudence, and the designer, in depth, spoke about his reasons for being close to Maison Balenciaga. The Air France deal made him come to terms with the fact that it would be people who would dictate what they required from his fashion house. The consumers felt the same way about other high-end fashion houses as well, and they were willing to make the necessary changes. Cristobal did not agree with what he believed were dictatorial terms. He opines that women from ultra-rich elite homes could dictate what the fashion house did, while stewardesses’ and other middle-class women shouldn’t be able to set the rules. Cristobal’s words reeked of classism, and he was unapologetic about it. His outdated ideas forced him to consider closing Maison Balenciaga because the current fashion values could never match up with his old-school ideas. This was followed by a shortage of fabric for the seamstresses to work on, which was another reason for him to shut down his store to avoid being embarrassed. A massive student protest in Paris that damaged his store gave him ample reason to close Maison Balenciaga, even though Ramon was happy to take over the design house. Ramon claimed to have plenty of experience shadowing and working with Cristobal, and his ideas could take the design house further. Cristobal believed his design house could not function without his presence. The fashion house carried his name, and he believed it was his duty to keep it running, not someone else’s. Even though his ex-employees sued him for unlawful termination, Cristobal was under the impression the law would be on his side, and that his idea of closing Maison Balenciaga was indeed right.

At the end of the interview, Prudence asked him to consider keeping the design house going and offer Ramon his place. Prudence worked for a fashion magazine, and her words had the ring of truth to them as people like Cristobal needed to move ahead with the times. Prudence had accumulated every recording of Cristobal she could find for the interview, and it made him feel mortal again. The idea of someone holding on to his legacy with just a voice was also new to him.

Cristobal Balenciaga ended with Prudence not finding any of the cassettes she had stored for him on her way back. It could be Cristobal who kept the cassettes to himself. He most likely did not want to share a part of himself with anyone, including Prudence. Cristobal requested that Ramon bury him over the hills with his family. Cristobal finally came to terms with his mortality, and it is assumed his interview was never published because of the loss of records. Cristobal closed his stores, and as the post credits stated, he passed away within a year.


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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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