In fashion history, iconic names such as Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy stand the test of time for their recognizable silhouettes. None, however, are known as the ‘master.’ One designer whose creations have created a mastery of both shape and style, is able to take on such a title, Spanish fashion designer Cristol Balenciaga. Revolutionizing the feminine silhouette, Balenciaga took his background in tailoring to sculpting couture. His use of dramatic textures and color, using a wide array of influences from his home in Spain to 19th century women’s style, has created some of his most iconic styles. Today, his pieces are still looked at for their exquisite craftsmanship. Starting May 27, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion will be showcased at The Victorian and Albert Museum with an exquisite collection of his most famous pieces.
Cristóbal Balenciaga at work, 1968, Paris, France. Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Alberta Tiburzi in ‘envelope’ dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Photograph by Hiro Wakabayashi for Harper’s Bazaar, June 1967. © Hiro 1967
This special fashion exhibition marks the centenary of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain as well as the 80th anniversary of his Paris couture house. Here you will see the largest collection of pieces, over 100 garments and 20 hats, stunningly crafted by the master himself. Highlights include his designs from one of his most creative eras, the 1950’s and 1960’s, where he created such famous styles as the baby doll dress, sack dress, and envelope dress, while dressing some of the most glamourous women of the time. These pieces will also be accompanied by archived sketches, photographs, fabric samples, patterns, and catwalk footage that shares Balenciaga’s unparalleled talent for fashion. Showcased in this exhibit will also be designs created by some of his protégées, most notably Oscar de la Renta, Andre Courreges, Paco Rabanne and Hubert de Givenchy. Contemporary designers who mirror Balenciaga’s design techniques will also be included, featuring Demna Gvasalia, Molly Goddard, and Simone Rocha.
A special feature was added to the exhibit that really shows the construction of Balenciaga’s works of art. V&A has collaborated with x-ray artist, Nick Veasey to build the first ever mobile art studio. In it, Veasey shot a series of life-size x-rays of Balenciaga’s couture. The beauty of this idea was to visually deconstruct his garments and take a look at the intricacy of his craft without damaging the pieces. To look beneath the surface of these gowns, Veasy and the V&A reveal the fascinating details that aren’t seen by the naked eye, including dress weights, hoops and boning. His photographs are displayed alongside the originals. This is one of many forensic projects V&A has applied to Balenciaga’s garments to reveal details of the late 20th century designer. Here we show some of the amazing features of this collaboration.
‘La Tulipe’ Dress: Fashioned specifically for Hollywood actress Ava Gardner, reveals how complex the inner corset was with its structure. The different layers of the light pink dress and the way it falls in the x-ray reveal the noticeable hems and selected pieces that construct the dress. Stray pins were also found inside the garment, once revealed on the x-ray, that shows the meticulous detail that went into it.
Balloon Hem Evening Dress: The 1954 Balloon Hem dress reveals the fantastic design of the gown with its’ internal hooping. With influence from 19th century fashion, Balenciaga used the hooping to support several layers of fabric which gives the dress a beautiful hourglass shape.
Spiral Silk Hat: This beautiful, intricate 1962 hat created by Balenciaga is truly a masterpiece. The interesting wiring seen in the x-ray shows the layering tiers of the hat that gives it its’ whimsical shape. The fabric that creates the shape is seamless.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is the UK’s first ever exhibition closely examining the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga and his creations that still influence the modern fashion world. Be sure to check out this exhibit, running May 27, 2017-June 18, 2018.