“Life has had a funny way of surprising me all the time”

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Raquel Balencia, a former model and haute couture designer from San Sebastian, had already been around the world as a model at the age of 25. She has modelled for Dior and Valentino, among others, and now, in her new stage as a haute couture designer, she is returning to her San Sebastian roots. She tells us about it in this exclusive interview for BasqueMagazine.

You have been attracted to the world of fashion since you were a child.

The world of design, both jewellery and clothing, the world of art, antiques and history, has always attracted me since I was a child. But the world of fashion as a mannequin caught my attention as a teenager, almost 18 years old, when I won several beauty contests and saw in that job the possibility of visiting many places that fascinated me in the short term. In fact, before I was 25, I had already managed to be in every continent except Oceania, participating in beauty contests and working as a model for different international agencies.

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Could that little girl from San Sebastian have imagined her later professional career?

Far from it, my favourite book as a child was an Atlas that I was constantly leafing through, dreaming of being able to spend a long holiday or a university period in Italy, to discover its archaeology. In the end, as fate would have it, Italy was the country where I worked most and best as a model, where I fell in love and started a family, and where I created my haute couture brand. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined enjoying Italy as I have, or having the opportunity to model for Dior and Valentino, to have won international beauty pageants in places as diverse as Lebanon and Zimbabwe, to have taken photos in a Tunisian oasis or to have been able to visit the White House on a private visit. Life has had a funny way of surprising me all the time, when I least expected it.

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From your career as an international model, what would you highlight professionally and personally?

The places I visited, the people I met, the good and bad experiences that made me mature in a short time. All this has given me a much more global vision of the world and has made me realise how lucky I am. I have learned to make mistakes, to be natural and approachable without caring what people think, to be satisfied with my small achievements, my modelling career, the competitions I won, my fashion and jewellery designs, the houses I have decorated over the years, but above all, to be happy with the age I am (I have just turned 40;) and the life I have now, having returned to live in San Sebastian to look after my children in a peaceful and beautiful environment. It sounds strange, but having worked for so many years in a world that is so solitary, demanding and completely focused on beauty, has made me place much more value on a quiet life with my family. Today I still design and do modelling work, but with serenity, when I can fit it in with my role as a mother and this new way of looking at it, makes me enjoy it even more.

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How did the transition from model to designer for your own brand work out for you?

It was very natural, I always liked design and I had the opportunity to parade for big haute couture brands, I really enjoyed seeing first hand how they created their designs and being able to talk to the stylists, so when I became pregnant with my first child, it seemed like the perfect time to embark on a new stage as a designer. Besides, I was already 34 years old and had the support of my husband, who has always believed in me and encouraged me to launch myself into the world of design, which I was so excited about.

How would you define your creations?

From the very first moment, the most important thing was the quality of the fabrics, the accessories and the production of the designs, the quality had to be the best, otherwise I would never have given my name to the brand. On the other hand, it was clear to me that I wanted to dress dreams, to dress real women and make them feel elegant, beautiful, bold and seductive, with designs that frame their shapes and make them look ethereal while the silk of the dress flies around them as they walk.

You try to "bring out the most of femininity". How do you achieve this?

With feminine and characterful designs, each time highlighting a different part of the female body: a dress that accentuates the waist, for example, thanks to a high-waist corset and several silk musseline wheels on the skirt, another with a completely bare back in a sketch without any more openings or our best-selling look, a dress with long sleeves and skirt with two openings and train, for which we use seven metres of pure silk georgette, with pink flowers on a make-up coloured background, made exclusively for us in one of the best ateliers in Como, Italy.

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How do you manage the balance between mother and designer?

My role as a mother is the most important in my life and the one I am most proud of, so in the last year, due to our move to San Sebastian and the schooling of my children, who are still very young, the role of designer has been somewhat postponed. We continue to sell online on my brand's website, www.raquelbalencia.com, especially in the UK, which is our main market, and we are evaluating projects that I am very excited about, but which I won't start until next year, when I hope our family will be settled in the new city and pace of life.

You say that San Sebastian is one of the most elegant cities in Europe. How would you introduce it to someone who has just arrived and what would you recommend them to do?

To anyone visiting San Sebastian, whether for the first time or not, I would always recommend walking around the city centre, the beaches and the river, enjoying its urban nature, its old French architecture, the maritime history of our city which has always fascinated me, its night lighting (although unfortunately it is not maintained all year round), indulging in its gastronomy, from the Parte Vieja to the great restaurants and not leaving the city without visiting the San Telmo Museum, one of my favourite places.

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