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Text Jennifer Paccione


The liking to and perception of the house of Balenciaga in Paris was instantaneous. At full length of his career, Cristóbal Balenciaga risked social norm with his creativity and rebelled through his designs. Admirers of the fashion house adapted such character as they risked their safety in traveling to Europe during World War II to pursue Balenciaga’s clothing. The French press esteemed the designer and defined him as revolutionary. Having founded the house of Balenciaga in 1914 indulging Spanish aristocrats, the Maison moved to Paris following the forced closure of his boutique in Madrid and Barcelona, due to the deposition of the Spanish monarchy and the Spanish Civil War. Balenciaga’s Square Coat flourished during this period, reconstructing the waistline and silhouette before his designs evolved to linear and sleek with fluidity. A master in manipulation, Balenciaga revolutionized the relationship between the fashioned garments and the female silhouette. Shoulders were broadened and waists were disregarded. Balenciaga’s Spherical Balloon Jacket profited in favor in the years preceding 1957. The year of 1957 housed the debut of a revolution in the form of rebellious silhouettes. During this year, Balenciaga ventured towards redefining the feminine silhouette.

The house introduced silhouettes that would not just delineate the direction of the decade, but the direction of future. The Cocoon Coat, Balloon Skirt, Sack Dress and Babydoll Dress all disillusioned the once defined waist and opted for the unanticipated. Balenciaga’s proportions were not accidental, but remained true to their unpredictability. The innovation in the exploration of fabrics and craftsmanship escorted Balenciaga to becoming virtuoso in haute couture during the Fifties and Sixties. Balenciaga designed for international socialites, duchesses, namely Queen Fabiola of Belgium, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy. Balenciaga’s mentorship to aspirants that later prospered as designers is indisputable. Most notable designers who apprenticed for Cristóbal Balenciaga include Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy. Balenciaga: Shaping fashion exhibition, at Victoria and Albert Museum in London, acclaims Cristóbal Balenciaga’s genius and glorifies his designs as the archive is unbarred exhibiting the designer’s sought after collections. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian and the eightieth anniversary of the opening of the fashion house in Paris.

This May will inaugurate the debut UK exhibition exploring Balenciaga’s work and continued influence in modern society. Rather than a retrospective, the exhibition directs attention towards the latter era of Balenciaga’s reigning career – the Fifties and Sixties. Such decades are argued with prominence as perhaps the most creative period of Balenciaga’s career, a period in which the likes of the most influential silhouettes were born. From the wardrobe of Ava Gardner, Gloria Guinness, and Mona von Bismarck, the exhibition highlights and includes commissioned designs from the couturier. Alongside the inclusion of archive sketches, photographs and fabric samples, two uncompromising collaborations have assisted the V&A in revealing the secrets of Balenciaga’s ingenuity. X-ray technology takes a forensic look at the hidden details inside Cristóbal Balenciaga’s creative. Through this, X-ray artist Nick Veasey is able to show structures invisible to the naked eye, including dress weights strategically placed to determine the exact hang of the skirt in one of the house’s most minimal designs, dispelling the myth the Balenciaga did not use such structures. Digitized and animated patterns demonstrate the buildable layers that cohesively formed a finished piece.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion will be organized in three sections: Front House, behind the scenes of Balenciaga’s Workrooms and the impact of Balenciaga’s Legacy. The legacy section is set to feature the work of more than thirty designers of the last fifty years, tracing the influence of this most revered figure in fashion. Balenciaga antagonized authority in his utmost rebellion and further resisted the bourgeoisie status of the Chambre. For this, technically Balenciaga couture was never haute couture due to his nonconforming as a member of the Chambre. Balenciaga eventually would close his fashion house in 1968, symbolically during the year of violent political protests in Paris. Cristóbal Balenciaga died in 1972 and the house of Balenciaga lay dormant until 1986. The reign of a barren throne concluded in 1986, and was eventually occupied by Nicolas Ghesquière. Nicolas Ghesquière was undeniably the crown creative director of Balenciaga. Ghesquière reigned as designer for Balenciaga for fifteen years, reinterpreting classic designs from the earliest years and adding to it a refreshing sense of modernity.

The DNA of the label was honored and incorporated, under the direction of Ghesquière, whilst remaining true to the label’s Spanish origins. It was a devotion to the house’s legacy drawn from respect for Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original design concepts. The house succeeded under the direction of Alexander Wang, and further directed under the newfound reign of Vetements designer, Demna Gvasalia. Gvasalia creates with an underlying sociological observation and quest for an alternative beauty. Gvasalia’s debut show notes aggregated the forthcoming direction of Balenciaga in defining Gvasalia’s debut collection as a reimagining of the work of Cristóbal Balenciagaa wardrobe of absolute contemporaneity and realism imbued with the attitude of his haute couture. A translation, not a reiteration. A new chapter. Among the inclusion of impacted creative directors following the suit of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the exhibition will include an exploration of his genius aesthetic reflected in the works of former apprentices André Courrèges and Emanuel Ungaro, and further respected creatives among the likes of J.W. Anderson and Hubert de Givenchy, further solidifying Cristóbal Balenciaga’s unprecedented presence and forever stay in fashion.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

27th May 2017 – 18th February 2018

Opening times: Saturday – Thursday 10.00 – 17.30

Friday 10.00 – 21.30

The Fashionable Lampoon Issue 9 Babylon – Digital Visual Wave