Cristóbal Balenciaga’s craftmanship, legacy and impact on the fashion world until this day is celebrated in a temporary exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which will leave you swooning over the designer’s work and projects through the years.
The ground floor is dedicated to Balenciaga’s craftsmanship, his workrooms and it explores the experience of being one of his clients, with testimonies from various wealthy women who swore by his designs. The exhibition follows a chronological order, emphasizing Balenciaga’s Spanish roots (with dresses inspired by fabrics from northern Spain, gowns associated with bullfighting and flamenco dresses) and the reflection of his Catholicism in his designs. However, Shaping Fashion focuses on this designer’s last decades, a period in which he released a series of controversial, yet innovative, designs – the baby doll dress and the unsexy sack.
Balenciaga experimented with form, fabric and the human body as an abstract object, and that is something that can be seen in this exhibition, on designs like the famous Envelope Dress.
This designer is called by many contemporaries The Master, a nickname that is brought to life through this perfectly put together exhibition. As you can observe in Shaping Fashion, it was Balenciaga’s training that set him apart and made him truly a master of haute couture. Unlike most fashion designers, Balenciaga began with the fabrics and designed around them – “It is the fabric that decides”. If you are someone who admires this designer’s work, you’re in for a real treat, with the display of some of his technical drawings, sketches, fabric swatches, reference photos and historical pieces, such as the 1961 green evening dress that opens the exhibition.
In order to replicate some of Balenciaga’s work and show his intricate designs and chosen patterns, the V&A joined hands with students from the London College of Fashion, and artist Nick Veasey produced X-rays to look at how his designs were constructed and to see the details that are not visible to the naked eye.
The upper floor looks at Balenciaga’s legacy and his impact on later generations of fashion designers, which is still interesting, but you’ll notice that the main focus of the exhibition and the place where you’ll want to spend your time is the ground floor, admiring the Master’s evening gowns and simple but structured dresses. Nevertheless, Balenciaga influenced every Fashion House – see the examples of Yohji Yamamoto and Calvin Klein in the 80’s and 90’s, and Phoebe Philo, J.W. Anderson and Rick Owens today. The exhibition isn’t associated with today’s Balenciaga brand, which was revamped in the 1990’s, but highlights the similarities between one of Cristóbal’s 1951 designs and a lady suit elaborated by Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga in 2016.
“Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga”, as Christian Dior said, is the statement that perfectly sums this exhibition up. Allow yourself to dive into his impressive and innovative work, learn more about the Master himself and see how his influence was felt worldwide in the fashion industry in this outstanding exhibition curated by Cassie Davies-Strodder.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion
- On now until Sunday, 18 February 2018
- Daily: 10:00 – 17:30 (last entry 16:15)
- Friday: 10:00 – 21:30 (last entry 20:15)
- Room 40 of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London