Spanish couturier Cristόbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) was esteemed by his contemporaries, and his legacy underpins fashion today. Balenciaga’s introduction to fashion began with his mother, a seamstress (V&A, 2017). The result was a masterful creator, whose iconic shapes and expertise of fabrics earned him a devoted following.
On the 21st September 2017, I attended the Balenciaga: ‘Shaping Fashion’ exhibition at the V&A in London. The exhibition boasts a collection of over 100 pieces created by Balenciaga (from 1950s-1960s), his protégés, and contemporary designers whose work carries the same innovation. Truthfully, I was not well acquainted with the works of this renowned ‘master’. Little did I know that I would leave with a reverence for him, and his relentless pursuit of perfection.
Line-ups of elegant mannequins clad in meticulously constructed garments greeted me. Rectangular display cases provided a stark contrast to the organic, sculptural lines of the garments. Spotlights crowned the pieces, adding a touch of drama: an echo of the sophisticated, high-profile clients he dressed, such as Ava Gardner and Mona von Bismarck (fig.4).
I was amazed at the pieces, which captured the designer’s ability to manipulate and warp fabric into all manner of shape. An embroidered evening dress (fig.5) held my attention for a while. Its form was like an effortlessly sculpted Qianlong vase. The shape is a nod to the Far East, where Manila shawls were produced and exported to Spain. Embroidered details of this piece are inspired by the floral embellishments on the shawls. In Spain, these shawls were coveted items, favoured by flamenco dancers. Studying the vibrant pinks and oranges woven into the dress, I could feel the energy and intensity of the dance. (This colour choice was also typical of the 1960s). Through the shape and print of the dress, Balenciaga cleverly married his cultural heritage with the shawls origins.
Needless to say, I left feeling taken aback by how such complex structures could be crafted so flawlessly. His intelligent pattern cutting and ‘invisible engineering’ (fig.4) broadened my thoughts on the possibilities within fashion. As someone who is very detail oriented, the sculptural quality and craftsmanship of Balenciaga’s work is something that I wish to attain as a continue with my fashion studies. I hope that, in this way, I too will continue his legacy.
‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ continues at the V&A until Sunday, 18th February 2018
- Balenciaga silk taffeta evening dress. Newbold, H. (2017). Balenciaga silk taffeta evening dress. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
- Balenciaga embroidered evening dress with sash. Newbold, H. (2017). Balenciaga embroidered evening dress with sash. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
- Ilinčić cocktail dress. Newbold, H. (2017). Ilinčić cocktail dress. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
- Balenciaga evening coat. Newbold, H. (2017). Balenciaga evening coat. [photograph]. In possession of : The author
- Balenciaga wild silk evening dress embroidered by Lesage. Newbold, H. (2017). Balenciaga wild silk evening dress embroidered by Lesage. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
- Erdem embroidered silk organza dress. Newbold, H. (2017). Erdem embroidered silk organza dress. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
- Balenciaga ‘semi-fit’ day dress. Newbold, H. (2017). Balenciaga ‘semi-fit’ day dress. [photograph]. In possession of: The author
Balenciaga, C. et al. (2017). ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ exhibition. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 27 May 2017 – 18 February 2018
AEM Asociación Española de Museólogos. (2011). The Manila Shawl – Museums: Visualizing Spanish Exhibits (eng). [online]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxvGAPuH2tg [Accessed 2 October 2017]
Victoria and Albert Museum. (2017). Introducing Cristóbal Balenciaga. [online]. Available from: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-cristobal-balenciaga [Accessed 2 October 2017]
Miller, S. (2006). A body of sculpture: Cristobal Balenciaga wanted his clothes to be admired as sculpture. Apollo. Nov. Vol. 164 No. 537. p. 100