[by Marjolein] Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is now open in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The exhibition on the work and legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga is not a large exhibit, but impressive nevertheless.
Happily jumping the queues with my advance booked ticket, I walk into the museum. Admiring the simple looking garments which turn out to be master pieces in design from up close. Zooming in is easy with help of short videos showing the constructions behind the fabric and x-ray photos. Marvelling on embroidery, fabrics and designs. True pieces of art.
This was the man who invented the balloon dress. And the first sack dress, in 1957. Sack dress? Yes, we still wear those today and call it a shift dress. Imagine the shock it created when first shown. The timeless loose silhouette and symbol of freedom and independence.
Cristóbal Balenciaga, the man behind the brand
Son of a seamstress, Spanish Cristóbal grew up around fabrics. As a teenager he landed a stylish Marchioness as client who also became his patron. After formal training in Madrid, he soon dressed royals and aristocrats. The outbreak of the Spanish civil war forced him to move to Paris.
In his heyday in Paris, Balenciaga employed a staff of 500, divided over different workshops. Dressed in a simple white lab coat he studied each piece and made alterations to meet his standards. Perfection was his middle name, he fitted each model himself. He chose every fabric, including lining and buttons.
Balenciaga is a couturier in the truest sense of the word. Only he is capable of cutting material, assembling a creation and sewing it by hand, the others are simply fashion designers. __Coco Chanel
This very private man gave only one interview during his 50-year career. What a contrast to the fashion frenzy of today! He closed his fashion house in 1968. Mona von Bismarck – one of his major clients – shut herself in her room for three days straight out of sheer horror. Who would dress her now? Balenciaga died in 1972, 77 years old.
But this was not the end. In 1986 the label was re-launched. Various creative directors ran the house. As did Nicolas Ghesquière, the best in my opinion, who was at its helm from 1997 till 2012.
Since October 2015 Demna Gvasalia is creative director of the house Balenciaga. His latest collection is much inspired by Cristóbal Balanciaga’s iconic pieces. Demna says that it is important to know the past in order to build the future. Let’s wait and see what that future will bring. He is a busy man anyway, since he is still head designer at label du jour Vetements.
Back to the V & A. It is not only about the Spanish fashion king, the top floor of the exhibition space is dedicated to designers influenced by Balenciaga. Diana Vreeland once reflected to Balenciaga’s influence on fashion by crowning him prophet of nearly every major change in silhouette.
Expect stunning pieces by Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Emanual Ungaro, Dries van Noten, Paco Rabanne and Dutch designer Iris van Herpen. To name but a few.
This exhibition really examines his work and legacy. But there is more. A Balenciaga Event Calendar with workshops, lunches, talks and special events.
I might come back for the Balenciaga Summer School and make myself a couture flower brooch.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion Victoria & Albert Museum London until 18 February 2018