Wednesday, 24 May 2017 14:38

Fashion Exhibition Balenciaga Shaping Fashion V&A

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The first ever UK exhibition on the Spanish fashion designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and his continuing influence on modern fashion opens at the V&A. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris. 

Left - The man himself, Cristóbal Balenciaga

TheChicGeek says, “While I love the V&A’s Fashion Gallery, the big exhibition space, where Pink Floyd currently is, is usually larger and something to get more excited about. But, this exhibition feels less cramped than previous exhibitions in the space - see Underwear here - and upstairs has a nice, spacious flow.

Balenciaga, as a designer, was serious. Those black voluminous gowns seem to sum up his lack of fun. He feels strict in that Spanish Catholic way, manifesting itself in his designs using lace and the Spanish Mantilla. You don’t get much feel for the man or his personality, but I think that’s how he liked it. He only gave one interview in his life, and that was just before he died.

Left - Known for his elegant volumes, Balenciaga was one of the great couturiers of the 20th century

The name disappeared into the history books when he closed his house and only came back into common culture with its revival around 20 year's ago when Gucci’s parent company, Kering, bought it alongside Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.

Downstairs is a collection of pieces, mostly coats and dresses, from his most prolific period the 1960s. These are sculptural clothes for pictures and striking as they are, when they become practical, to enter the real world, particularly the commissions by the rich Americans, they look dated and frumpy. His volumes work on their own, but on people they add bulk and often swallow the wearer. These aren't easy wearing pieces.

Some of his pieces aren’t practical either. The wearer couldn’t sit down or go to the toilet in 'Envelope' dress, for example, but this doesn't detract from its beauty.

This was the golden age of 20th century of couture and while he produced ready-to-wear with his 'Eisa' range, his heart was in his exacting standards and the fine fabrics he used. 

Left - The 'Envelope' dress, 1967, a design you couldn't sit down or go to the toilet in

Balenciaga is more a collection of one-off greatest hits than themed seasons in the vain of Saint Laurent. These weren’t particularly well documented, even though they were huge, between 150 to 200 looks, as the press weren’t allowed into his shows, so the main imagery is striking black and white shoots in the magazines at the time which have entered in the common psyche of 20th century fashion images.

Upstairs is a large display with a varied selection of designers, both old and new, paying homage to the volumes that Balenciaga pioneered. There are a couple of men’s pieces by JW Anderson and Rory Parnell-Mooney to illustrate that his influence isn’t restricted solely to womenswear.

Left - JW Anderson paying homage to Balenciaga with his tulip trousers

There are a couple of pieces from the new Balenciaga, under Demna Gvasalia, who is producing great things and referencing the house while making it feel contemporary. Unfortunately, there isn't a blue Ikea bag in sight!

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion until 18th February 2018. Admission £12

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