Last weekend, MrB and I went to the exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, New Retrospective, V&A (27 May 2017-18 February 2018). I’m not a fashionista, and only knew Balenciaga from his namesake designer handbags. I left the exhibition in awe of his skill and creativity, and grateful that he brought us designs that I can easily see myself wearing today: the baby-doll dress, the shift dress, the raglan sleeve, tunic and cocoon coat.
Cristobel Balenciaga (1895-1972) is widely acknowledged as “the designer’s designer”, and although he is not as recognisable a name as Coco Chanel or Christian Dior, there is no doubt as to his legacy and innovation.
Lovingly curated, the V&A draws on its existing collection of his pieces, the largest collection in the UK, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Spanish master’s first fashion salon in Sans Sebastian and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous house in Paris. Rather than a full retrospective, the exhibition focuses on the last two decades, and arguably the most creative, of the master’s career, in the 1950s and 1960s.
The exhibit displays over 100 pieces of the couturier, his protégés and contemporary designers, and is divided into three sections: covering the milieu, making, and legacy of Balenciaga’s designs.
The most interesting section is on the ground floor, which is the heart of the exhibition. It is the part dedicated to the making of the works. Archive sketches, short films and x-ray photography reveal how deceptively simple the intricate designs were, with weights to secure skirts in place and hidden corsets under swathes of fabric.
The legacy section on the upper floor displays how Balenciaga shaped fashion, visible in the work of today’s designers. You can see his influences easily.
Balenciaga was innovative, bold and forward-thinking in his designs.
As Christian Dior said, “Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.” From this exhibition it’s clear that Balenciaga’s music still plays.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, New Retrospective, V&A – don’t miss out on it. (We went straight from Balenciaga to the Pink Floyd exhibition, also at the V&A. Other recent exhibitions we enjoyed were Hockney at the Tate and Picasso at the National Portrait Gallery.)