Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion

I recently visited the “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the life and legacy of the legendary Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga and showcases more than one hundred pieces of his work.

Cristobal Balenciaga, often considered by many to be the master of fashion, operated the most exclusive design house in Paris for decades. An accomplished designer, Balenciaga was also highly skilled at draping, tailoring, designing, cutting and dressmaking. His phenomenal talent set him apart from other prominent contemporaries who did not share his multi-talented expertise.

About the exhibition

The exhibition is split into two parts: a retrospective of Balenciaga’s life and career, and his influence on the fashion world.

The ground floor layout looks at the designer’s work from the 1950s to the 1960s, a period when Balenciaga was designing for some of the most revered women in high society. His clothes were beautifully cut and women who wore Balenciaga were often reluctant to wear anything else. During these two decades, he revolutionised the design world - in particular, the female fashion shape. In fact, iconic designs from this era are typically derivatives of Balenciaga’s designs. It is wonderful to see such a large number of his designs in one location.

The upstairs exhibition focuses on Balenciaga’s wider influence on the fashion world. Contemporaries such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior considered him to be a visionary artist, with Dior saying, “Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.”

Other pieces are also on display from designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Celine, Alexander McQueen and even Balenciaga’s former understudies, Andre Courreges and Emanuel Ungaro.

A unique insight

Included in the exhibition are some beautiful digital animations of Balenciaga’s pattern-cutting process. These give an amazing insight into the methods and techniques which he used and you can see in detail how each piece was constructed. Accompanying these animations are X-ray prints, showing in even greater detail how these impeccable garments were assembled.

A final, fascinating element of the show explores the influences which shaped Balenciaga’s life and work. Catholicism, bullfighting and flamenco were strong traditions of Spanish culture and the exhibition shows how Balenciaga drew on these aspects to create innovative, sophisticated pieces. 

Balenciaga was a master of his craft, an expert in every part of the couture process and his influence on the fashion industry has been remarkable. This exhibition is a great way to see a large number of his designs and to get an insight into the reasons why he was so influential. “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” runs until Feb 18, 2018 at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

How do you think Balenciaga has influenced the fashion world? Please let us know.

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Written by: Sinead Garcia

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