The famous protagonist of Italian high fashion leaves us at the age of 98 but his elegance remains eternal with his Blue Balestra
“The thing that gratifies me the most is that I discovered that I was likeable: someone like me, who at the age of 11 read Dostoevsky and played Beethoven on the piano… And then it seemed to me that I was so ugly with these big lips” so he said about himself same twenty years ago Renato Balestra. Renato became a stylist, and then one of the leading representatives in the world of Italian high fashion and made in Italy, by chance, as a joke. As a boy he really didn’t think about fashion. Born in Trieste in 1924 in a family of architects and engineers, as a young man he dedicated himself to painting, music and scenography, to studying the piano but to follow in the footsteps of his families he attended the engineering faculty and projected himself into this future. day, a bet with friends changed his life. A sketch of a dress designed by him for fun was sent, precisely by his friends, directly to the Italian Fashion Center in Milan: “It was sent without my knowledge to the Italian Center for Milan fashion for a contest. That design was incredibly successful, so much so that I was invited to collaborate on a haute couture collection that was to be shown in Florence”. His fortunes changed rapidly and shortly thereafter he became one of the very symbols of Italian high fashion. Having abandoned his engineering studies, he began his apprenticeship in the atelier of Jole Veneziani. In 1954 the transfer to Rome. Here he works for Emilio Schubert, Maria Antonelli and the Fontana sisters. In this period, his costumes designed for actresses of the caliber of Ava Gardner, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren enter his history. In 1958 his talent flies overseas and presents his collections in the USA. Here too he conquers divas like Liz Taylor and Claudia Cardinale. His first atelier was born in Rome in via Gregoriana 36 in 1959 and a few years later in 1961 his first Spring-Summer haute couture collection was presented in the National Gallery of Modern Art. And it is precisely that in the dynamic 60s its symbol par excellence was born, destined to become very famous all over the world: the “Blue Balestra”. A bright, brilliant, magical, iconic, absolutely timeless blue, a color that is still today an indisputable symbol of the maison’s identity. The story or the reasons behind the choice of this particular color are not known, Renato himself will tell during some interviews that not even he knows the reason for his love for that particular color but he is absolutely convinced that blue has been his color since he was a child favorite. At the end of those years his brand as an icon of the great Italian style was distributed all over the world and his clothes were chosen, loved and worn by first ladies, princesses, empresses: Farah Diba, the Queen of Thailand Sirikit and her daughter, the Princess Choulaborn, Princess Noor of Jordan who chooses Balestra to make the wedding dress for her wedding with Prince Hamzah bin Hussein. His creativity is also accompanied by great pragmatic choices: he was among the first stylists to believe in “licence”, and since the launch of the Balestra perfume in 1978 he has successfully created various categories of products including make-up, suitcases, eyewear and articles for the House. His youthful passion for theatrical sets returned when he began to design the costumes for many operas, collaborating with the Belgrade Opera Theater for the costumes of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, with the Verdi Theater of Trieste creating the costumes for Il Cavaliere della Strauss rose. A huge worldwide success when he designed the costumes for the musical Cinderella produced by Broadway-Asia Entertainment with a world tour that has touched from the major Asian cities to the cities in the USA. His last great stages of an eternal career are in 2011 when he inaugurated the “Fashion is culture” exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles, where the path traced the fundamental stages of his prestigious career through 150 drawings and sketches. And then in 2019 his anthological exhibition in the Certosa Museo di San Martino in Naples, with over 250 dresses and sketches. His archive has been declared by the Mibac “of particularly important historical interest” as it includes documentation produced from the mid-fifties to the present day, with over 40,000 sketches and drawings, clothes and tailoring, press reviews and photographs, it is an incredible historical document. “He was an extraordinary man, courageous, capable of making himself. For us he was an example – as his niece Sofia Bertolli Balestra recalls – I have always liked how, in the Seventies, he began to dress a totally different type of woman, much more modern: he created transparent dresses decorated with embroideries that they looked like brushstrokes, nothing like it had ever been seen. A customer of his told me one day that my grandfather’s clothes were for “bitchy women”. A definition that I like very much”. The management of the brand and atelier was left to the daughters, Federica and Fabiana, and to the niece Sofia: “Grieved by this terrible disappearance, the memory of an extraordinary man remains. Unique for his passion and curiosities that have allowed him to be the protagonist of Italian high fashion in the world.” Goodbye Renato, we at Michele Franzese Moda wish you to fly with serenity in your eternal Blue Balestra.