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18th September 2017

Cristóbal Balenciaga: Shaping fashion

Over the summer, Deputy Fashion Editor Amy Nguyen explored the works of Cristóbal Balenciaga at the Victoria & Albert museum in London

I consider myself to be fairly literate in the world of fashion and design. However, the exhibition hosted by the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London and curated by Cassie Davies-Strodder really highlighted the influence Cristóbal Balenciaga had on the global fashion industry.

His creative DNA and bold, innovative designs can be seen to have inspired the likes of J W Anderson, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Oscar De La Renta, Emanuel Ungaro and Yves Saint Laurent – to name but a few. Simply put, ‘Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.’ – Christian Dior.

Fun fact: Did you know that Paco Rabanne was the son of Balenciaga’s former head seamstress?

Regarded by his peers as the ‘King of Fashion’, his forward thinking stance on bold architectural shapes and tailoring are brought to life for all to see. Over 100 pieces are presented to punters, many crafted by Balenciaga himself but also pieces created by his students and disciples such as Hubert de Givenchy, as well as contemporary fashion designers like Molly Goddard, who have used and adapted his techniques.

Interactive elements within the exhibition allow you to channel your inner couturier as you are able to fashion a Balenciaga cloak/skirt into a ‘wear it your own way’ garment. Similarly, you can create your own mini paper Yoki coat, which involved cutting a singular line to mirror his genius ‘one seam’ coat, and provides you with a deep appreciation of his talent.

Intricacies of pattern making and eccentric shapes is a constant theme, highlighted through he exhibitions promotional imagery which focuses on the Envelope dress, designed in 1967.

Secrets behind the construction of his designs are overturned by an X-Ray project that explores the underbelly and structure of these famous pieces.This scientific lens enables us to comprehend the way Balenciaga married various aspects of design, art and fashion as fabrics, weights, and folds within structures were analysed and alludes to the fact there is far more than meets the eyes within these designs. For example, the use of disguised weights within pieces such as the Balloon Hem Evening dress and the Tulip dress created unique folds that would other wise not exist.

X-Ray Vision at Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion – Photo: Amy Nguyen

The embellished gowns and lavish accessories resonated with me; although his clients included the Spanish Royal Family, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy, Cristóbal Balenciaga exceeded the simple model of being a popular designer who dressed the stars. It is clear that his designs are an intrinsic link and the back bone to many of our most beloved fashion houses.

His notion that “a woman has no need to be perfect or even beautiful to wear my dresses… The dresses will do all that for her” is a message that echoes loud and clear throughout the manifestation of his work.

If you want to be as mesmerised and quite frankly googley-eyed as I was at the beautiful couture pieces and the many facets of the exhibition you’ve still got plenty of time. Whilst you are there be sure to wander around the newly opened Exhibition Road Quarter Gallery which will now be home to temporary galleries within the museum.

Exhibition ends on Sunday 18th February 2018, so if you’re around in London over the Christmas break, be sure to check it out. Tickets are £12 and can be booked here.

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