‘Haute Couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We, other couturiers, are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.’ Christian Dior
Last May, the V&A opened the first ever UK exhibition exploring the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga and his continuing influence on modern fashion. It is the first of its kind to look at his unique approach to making and showcases pieces by his protégés and contemporary designers working in the same innovative way today. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris.
‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ focuses on the latter part of Balenciaga’s long career in the 1950s and 1960s — his most creative period. It was during these years that the not only dressed some of the most renowned women of the time, but also introduced revolutionary shapes including the tunic, the sack, ‘baby doll’ and shift dress — all of which remain style staples today.
Highlights include ensembles made by Balenciaga for Hollywood actress Ava Gardner, dresses and hats belonging to socialite and 1960s fashion icon Gloria Guinness, and pieces worn by one of the world’s wealthiest women, Mona Von Bismarck, who commission ed everything from ball — gowns to gardening shorts from the couturier. On display are over 100 garments and 20 hats , many of which have never been on public display before. These are accompanied by archive sketches, patterns, photographs, fabric samples and catwalk footage revealing Balenciaga’s uncompromising creativity . In addition x – rays, animated patterns and short films on couture – making processes uncover the hidden details that made his work so exceptional. The exhibition draw s on the V&A’s extensive fashion holdings – the largest collection of Balenciaga in the UK .
On display are over 100 garments and 20 hats, many of which have never been on public display before. These are accompanied by archive sketches, patterns, photographs, fabric samples and catwalk footage revealing Balenciaga’s uncompromising creativity . The collection was initiated for the Museum by Cecil Beaton in the 1970s.
For the first time the V&A has used x – ray technology to take a forensic look at the hidden details inside Cristóbal Balenciaga’s garments. The images, made with x – ray artist Nick Veasey, show structures invisible to the naked eye , including dress weights strategically placed to determine the exact hang of the skirt in one of Balenciaga’s most minimal designs, and boning in dress bodices, dispelling the myth that he did not use such structures.
The exhibition is organised around three main sections: ‘Front of House’, including Balenciaga’s salons, behind the scenes in Balenciaga’s ‘Workroom s’ and the lasting impact of ‘Balenciaga’s Legacy ’.
The Balenciaga brand still references its founder today, yet his influence spreads far wider. The ‘Legacy’ section will feature the work of over 30 designers of the last 50 years tracing the influence of this most revered figure in fashion right up to the present day. Themes include an exploration of h is minimalist aesthetic reflected in the work of his former apprentices André Courrèges and Emanuel Ungaro, and more recently revived by designers such as Phoebe Philo for Celine and in the strong lines of J.W. Anderson . Balenciaga’s perfectionism and attention to detail are reflected in the work of Hubert de Givenchy and Erdem. His pattern cutting and explorations of volume can be seen in the work of Molly Goddard and Demna Gvasalia , while his creative use of new materials is referenced in the work of former Balenciaga creative director Nicolas Ghesquière . Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion opens on 27 May 2017 and is accompanied by a new V& A publication and a series of related events, courses and creative workshops. – ENDS –
The exhibition ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ runs until 18 February 2018.
Info from V&A press release.
Photos © Brit Es Magazine