X-ray vision: a new Balenciaga exhibition is a fine lesson in fashion forensics

Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga was famously elusive. He only gave one interview his entire career – to The Times in 1971, three years after closing his fashion house, and one year before his death. He also banned press from the first showings of his collections in 1965.

It’s a mean feat then that the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is launching a forensically in-depth exhibition about the designer – the first in the UK – which spans the 1950s and 60s, Balenciaga’s most avant-garde and revolutionary years. The exhibition comes 100 years after the designer opened his first fashion house in San Sebastián and 80 years after he launched his Paris salon. It’s a centenary year being explored in that city too – ‘Balenciaga: L’Oeuvre au Noir’ opened in March at the Musée Bourdelle, which focuses solely on the designer’s use of black.

Balenciaga is credited with a host of revolutionary silhouettes, including the babydoll and sack dress shapes which caused consternation in the late fifties, but later became analogous to sixties fashion. Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia – who took the creative helm of Balenciaga in October 2015 – presented a series of archive dresses, some Amphora line, puffball or with a balloon hem, as part of his A/W 2017 women’s collection. They highlight the signatures of a designer who – contrary to his counterpart M Dior (synonymous with the ‘Bar’ silhouette) – is renowned for an experimental approach to the female form.

Cristóbal Balenciaga in his studio at Avenue Marceau in Paris, late 1950s. Photography: Cecil Beaton. © Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s​

 

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