The Balenciaga effect
The Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion exhibition provides an intimate look at the revered couturier’s masterpieces
The story of Balenciaga began with a Spanish couturier with an eye for perfection and an aversion to self-promotion, Cristóbal Balenciaga. He allowed nothing to detract from the clothes, not even his own presence as their designer, granting only one full interview in his lifetime. At presentations, Balenciaga observed his audience of actresses (including Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich) royals, editors and buyers from behind curtains.
Tailoring ran in Balenciaga’s blood. His mother was a seamstress and his childhood was spent by her side. After receiving formal training in Madrid, he sharpened his skills by apprenticing at some of San Sebastián’s finest tailors. He opened his first boutique, C. Balenciaga, in 1917, then moved to Paris in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out.
Coco Chanel called him “a couturier in the truest sense of the word”, as Balenciaga was able to drape, cut and fit his own toiles. If Chanel shone a light on jerseys and Christian Dior gave us the hourglass New Look, Balenciaga was the innovator of voluminous silhouettes and baby doll dresses. He favoured heavier textiles, which he turned into gowns with raised waists that encouraged movement and looks that reflected his Spanish heritage, such as a shocking pink flamenco-style dress with a highlow hemline. Celebrities clamoured to be outfitted in Balenciaga, as they still do today. Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is the first exhibition in the UK to explore the designer’s influence on modern fashion. Alongside pieces by Balenciaga himself are designs by his contemporaries: former apprentices André Courrèges and Emanuel Ungaro, as well as present-day designers Phoebe Philo and Balenciaga’s current creative director Demna Gvasalia, whose A/W ’17 collection heavily referenced the classic voluminous silhouette. Don’t miss the X-ray images of Balenciaga’s garments, created by artist Nick Veasey, the first of their kind at the V&A Museum.
‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ now until February 18, 2018, Victoria and Albert Museum, London. vam.ac.uk/balenciaga
Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing coat by Cristóbal Balenciaga, photographed by Irving Penn
Balenciaga A/W ’17
Elise Daniels with street performers, suit by Balenciaga, photographed by Richard Avedon, 1948
Dovima with Sacha, cloche and suit by Balenciaga, Café Deux Magots, Paris 1955, photographed by Richard Avedon