The Master: Balenciaga

This incredibly shaped futuristic dress is from 1961

Fabric, colour and shape are the three defining factors to Cristobal Balanciaga’s success.

An eye for detail and an obsession with perfection obviously helped along the way but it was Balenciaga’s sculptural masterpieces and revolutionary use of material that really set him apart over his 65 year career. Known as The Master by his contemporaries, his influence on fashion designers over the decades is a particular highlight in the V&A Museum’s exhibition. I loved learning how his designs abstract the body, using volume and structure to create entirely new silhouettes and statements.

The exhibition celebrates 100 years since the designer founded his first salon in Spain. Set over two floors, downstairs the exhibition explores his creations and visions, showcasing some rare examples of his work, alongside sketch books, photos of celebrities, films of the designer and xray images giving us a glimpse of the designer’s intricate tecnniques and craftsmanship. Continuing upstairs, the exhibition goes on to feature works by contemporary designers whose work pays homage to Balenciaga’s legacy, including works by Nicolas Ghesquiere, McQueen, Azzedine Alaïa, Comme des Garçons, Gareth Pugh and Molly Goddard.

Flamenco style evening dress

The Envelope cocktail dress, made in 1967, the result of experimentation with silk hazard fabric to abstract the human form. A big hit with the fashion press at the time but impractical for bathroom visits….

Hidden ribbons inside the sleeves pull the fabric together to create this ripple effect.

Red Dress
Silk Taffeta Evening Dress with XRay behind showing its hidden workings

This beautiful red ball gown has concealed leg ties to enable the front balloon effect. Such an interesting shape yet so beautifully elegant too, and the colour is exquisite. The forensic imaging shows the designer’s innovative approach to structure. One dress has coins sewn into it, weighting the dress so it appears to fall effortlessly.

‘The only couturier in the truest sense of the word’ Coco Chanel

There are 20 hats included in the exhibition, including these incredibly futuristic designs.

Spanish born Balenciaga learnt to sew at the age of 12, apprenticing for a tailor in his Basque town. His incredible attention to detail and craftmanship are key points in this exhibition; videos from his atelier and quotes from both him and other fashion designers describe him as the epitomy of perfectionist.

‘A couturier must be an architect for design, a sculptor for shape, a painter for colour, a musician for harmony, and a philosopher for temperance’ Cristobel Balenciaga

‘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

Roksana Ilincic

‘For 20 years he was the prophet of nearly every major change in silhouette.’ Diana Vreeland

Gareth Pugh

i

Corrie Nielson
Rei Kawakubo

 

Josep Font for Delpozo

 

810I loved seeing the shapes and techniques used in the 1960s, how Balenciaga abstracted the figure and led the way with new shapes and silhouettes, as well as his traditionalist approach to craftmanship. The upstairs exhibition then cements his historic and continuing influence, demonstrating how his designs have made their way through to the everyday fashion of our time – shift dresses, cocoon coats, raglan sleeves, baby doll dresses, balloon hems and tunics are all part of his legacy.

Balenciaga was particularly private and only gave one interview during his career. This exhibition gives a fascinating insight into his career and amazing vision. Its on until Feb 2018. We spent about an hour and a half there, followed by lunch at the V&A cafe. Highly recommended!

https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/balenciaga-shaping-fashion 

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