Present Per­fect

The past and the fu­ture of Ba­len­ci­aga meet in Bei­jing as Alexan­der Wang con­ducts a di­a­logue be­tween his work and Cristóbal’s iconic cre­ations.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents - By Jef­frey Yan.

From the very first look he showed at Ba­len­ci­aga, it was ev­i­dent that Alexan­der Wang’s ten­ure as cre­ative di­rec­tor would be highly rev­er­ent of the spirit of the founder. Cristóbal Ba­len­ci­aga was an ex­per­i­men­tal per­fec­tion­ist and a mas­ter of con­struc­tion – ap­par­ent in his recurring use of cer­tain el­e­ments that are now seen as his sig­na­tures. Who else could do a three-quar­ter sleeve, a stand-away col­lar, or a co­coon shape like Cristóbal did? Few have come close to match­ing the pre­ci­sion of his cuts or the way he’d make vo­lu­mi­nous taffeta gowns al­most weight­less.

In a move that was a first for the brand, Wang opened up the ar­chives that have so greatly in­flu­enced him, per­son­ally se­lect­ing more than 40 looks span­ning Cristóbal’s en­tire ca­reer to stage Ba­len­ci­aga China Edi­tion. In a spe­cially erected space in the mid­dle of the Chi­nese Academy of Oil Paint­ing, the clothes were split into three groups – day­wear, cock­tail, and evening­wear – and ex­hib­ited with mir­rors be­hind them. This was cru­cial be­cause a Ba­len­ci­aga dress could be de­cep­tively sim­ple in the front but in the back, there would be a gor­geously draped cowl, ex­pos­ing inches of skin, or a stiff cape that stands el­e­gantly.

At the far end of the hall stood four of Cristóbal’s most fa­mous pieces, known even to those re­moved from fash­ion cir­cles. There was the 1939 In­fante dress, in­spired by the por­traits of Velázquez from his na­tive Spain; the 1958 Baby Doll

dress, which car­ried its en­tire weight on the shoul­ders, leav­ing the body com­pletely free un­der­neath; the Gazar Bolero dress, a mas­ter­piece he con­cocted late in his ca­reer, si­lenc­ing his crit­ics; and the 1967 Wed­ding dress, a ma­jes­ti­cally aus­tere piece that fea­tured only three seams.

Tak­ing in the archival pieces and later the re­worked Spring/Sum­mer ’14 show, one is struck by how deftly Wang has rein­ter­preted Cristóbal’s vi­sion­ary ideas for the mod­ern cus­tomer. The dense flo­ral prints favoured by Cristóbal found their way onto crop tops and miniskirts in pas­tels and greyscale. Black-and-white dresses came with the fa­mil­iar rounded shoul­ders and flow­ing capes but main­tained a mod­ern sex ap­peal. Struc­tured pe­plums popped up on printed trousers while Cristóbal’s tai­lored jack­ets had been turned into sharp and short jacket-dresses. Wang cre­ated 13 new looks ex­clu­sively for the Chi­nese mar­ket and it’s a tes­ta­ment to his commercial ap­peal that ev­ery sin­gle look has suc­cess­fully found buy­ers even be­fore the clothes hit the run­way. Cristóbal him­self might have never ven­tured far be­yond Paris and Spain but with Wang at the helm, the house he founded is go­ing more places than dreamed of.

An archival Pea­cock Dress from 1968

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