Ms Eckardt left Sydney, first for London, where she worked for a few years doing catwalk, then Paris, where she worked as a photographic model, ending up at the house of Balenciaga in the early 1960s.
“I sailed out of Sydney Harbour with a big suitcase of homemade clothes, with no contract and no money and a one-way ticket … so that was determination,” she said. “My father gave me my wings to fly. Everything I did was to prove to him he made the right choice for me.”
Now in her eighties, Sydney-based Eckardt on Friday helped launch an exhibition on the history of Balenciaga and its influence on modern fashion at Bendigo Art Gallery.
The exhibition, the fourth collaboration with London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, includes more than 100 pieces from the early years under Cristobal Balenciaga, dubbed “The Master” by his contemporaries, until the modern day.
“I’m in tears almost, especially when you look at the film [in the exhibition],” Ms Eckardt said. “To see those garments in movement [again] is so different. Statically, they are gorgeous, but to see them moving, that was [Cristobal Balenciaga’s] trick.”
Stephanie Wood, project curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, said the exhibition laid out Balenciaga’s significance in 20th century fashion history, including through special X-ray photos showing the “hidden secrets” of some of its most iconic designs.
Today, under creative director Demna Gvasalia, the brand has taken a much more “street” approach to fashion, including a cult following for its bags and shoes, including sneakers.
Ms Wood said that while some of Gvasalia’s designs stray far from the DNA of the house, such as a collaboration with Crocs, he also regularly pays homage to the founder’s aesthetic.
“It shows how much he is respecting where the brand is from to build the future. [Cristobal Balenciaga] would enjoy that Demna is leading fashion and making Balenciaga a name [again],” she said.
Bendigo Art Gallery director Jessica Bridgfoot said Balenciaga set the pace for modern fashion, and was a “trailblazing feminist” because of his penchant for looser cuts.
“It was said you didn’t have to [have the perfect figure] to wear a Balenciaga dress … he had a way of making women feel interesting and unique without necessarily being traditionally ‘beautiful’,” she said.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is on at Bendigo Art Gallery until November 10.
Melissa Singer is National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.