Worn by a famous bride on the day she became a queen, visitors to Madrid can get up close and personal with one of the best known royal wedding gowns of the 20th century. The Balenciaga creation chosen by a certain Fabiola de Mora y Aragon for her 1960 marriage to King Baudouin of the Belgians is part of a retrospective of the designer’s work now on at one of the best known galleries in the Spanish capital.
Queen Fabiola’s wedding dress was one of the most talked about of the early 1960s. Featuring a fitted bodice with full length sleeves and a bell shaped ankle length skirt, it is made of white satin. The rounded neck is trimmed in white ermine, a controversial decision, and a long train flows from the shoulders of the dress.
Balenciaga knew Fabiola’s family well. His career in fashion had begun with the support of her grandmother, the Marchioness of Casa Torres, who had employed his mother as a seamstress. She heard about his ambitions to design and was one of his first customers. The marchioness, famed for her style and love of fashion, went from buying some of his creations to backing him as he built a glittering career.
Cristobal Balenciaga was born in Getaria in Spain’s Basque region in 1895 and, with the help of the marchioness, found himself in Madrid before opening a chain of boutiques and winning the patronage of Spanish royalty. When the monarchy fell and civil war broke out in Spain, he headed to Paris. By the time Fabiola announced her engagement to King Baudouin of the Belgians, Balenciaga was a celebrated fashion leader. He created her wedding dress as a gift to the granddaughter of one of his greatest patrons.
Now, modern viewers can examine its design and tailoring at first hand as it forms part of the exhibition ‘Balenciaga and Spanish Painting’ which is taking place at the Thyssen Gallery in Madrid over the summer. The display shows some of his famous designs against a backdrop of some of Spain’s most celebrated art work to underline how Balenciaga’s creations captured the essence of his country’s cultural identity.
However, you’ll need to know your royal onions to find Fabiola’s dress for it, like the others in the exhibition, bears no reference to its famous owner in a deliberate move to allow the creations and art to work together.
The dress itself now belongs to the Cristobal Balenciaga Foundation after Fabiola donated it to the organisation.
The exhibition runs until September 2019.