The new Disney+ series, unveiled on January 19, highlights a lesser-known aspect of Cristóbal Balenciaga, founder of the famous fashion house Balenciaga. This production explores his ties with the Nazis during the Occupation, a dark period in French history.
In this series, actor Alberto San Juan plays the role of Balenciaga. A key scene depicts a fictional interview with Prudence Glynn for the Times in August 1971, where he discusses his survival during the war, referring to fashion as craftsmanship serving the elite, regardless of resistance or collaboration.
The series also details the sudden closure of the Balenciaga house in July 1940 by the German authorities, suggesting various reasons such as Balenciaga’s homosexuality or his hats deemed eccentric by the Nazis.
Historians suggest that Balenciaga could have benefited from ties with Francisco Franco, an ally of Hitler, to continue his activities. Close associates of the Franco regime, like Carmen Polo, were regular customers. Balenciaga designed the wedding dress of Carmen Martínez-Bordiú, Franco’s granddaughter, in 1972. For the record, the mother of the great Paco Rabanne is said to have worked for him.
The series also raises the ties of other fashion houses with the Nazis, like Hugo Boss, founder of Adolf Hitler’s party, and Chanel, whose anti-Semitic founder Gabrielle Chanel is said to have been recruited by German intelligence services. Balenciaga is portrayed as an enigmatic, talented but discreet man, struggling to keep his homosexuality hidden. He is described as an exceptional couturier, recognized and admired by his peers like Christian Dior and Coco Chanel.
Cristóbal Balenciaga on Disney+ is not unanimously acclaimed, but the series has the merit of exploring the complex life of the great Spanish couturier, whose house still thrives, without obscuring the controversial aspects of his past.