The Balenciaga Museum and Fashion as Art

Fifteen miles west of San Sebastian along the coast of northern Spain's Basque region sits a small fishing village called Getaria. When it is known, it's for a couple of things: its Txakoli, a lightly sparkling white wine unique to the region and served in the charming seafood restaurants to be found in the several cobblestones streets of the old town; and as the birthplace of the fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Born in 1895, Balenciaga grew up learning how to craft a garment, partly from his seamstress mother (a wealthy patron also helped fund his sartorial education). He soon made his way to San Sebastian, where he opened his first boutique in 1919, and eventually to Paris, where he joined the ranks of Chanel and Dior--haute gods. But it's Getaria where he is buried, and the town claimed him as its own when it opened a museum dedicated to his work in 2011.

During a visit to San Sebastian, I spent a blustery day exploring the Balenciaga collection and town. The very contemporary museum building looms above the old town, which in turn hugs the water. It's a pleasant place to spend a day away from the inevitable crowds and commercialism of the nonetheless fabulous San Sebastian. I got off the bus, got my bearings, climbed the hill from the main road and entered the museum, with its soaring serious spaces and echo-y quiet.