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
It all started with Raf Simons with his AW16 collection and, now, it’s the knitwear neckline du jour. The quintessentially British cricket jumper has been grunged up and distressed and become less gentleman's summer sport and more urban and edgy thanks to designers such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci. Brands such as Stella McCartney and Kent & Curwen have all done their interpretation of the cricket V and there's plenty of mileage in this style as many brands such as the Spanish knitwear brand, Sweaterhouse, is showing them for AW17. If you don't want to pay designer prices then pop to your local sports store, university or school shop and buy the largest size they have.
Left - Raf Simons AW16
Left - AMI - £225 - matchesfashion.com
Below - Prada SS17
Left - Stella McCartney - £570 MRPORTER.COM
Left - Gucci - £560 - MRPORTER.COM
Below - Kent & Curwen - £495 - MRPORTER.COM
Left - Raf Simons AW16
Left - Smart Turnout - £149
Below - Cambridge University - Magdalene College Cricket Sweater - Ryder & Amies - £110
It’s hard and premature to judge a brand on their first collection. It takes around 2 or 3, ideally, to be able to assess properly and get a median point of view or an idea on whether you like it or not and want to commit, i.e. buy. The fashion set usually rush to rave, if it's good, or sit back, offer non-committal politeness and hope they advertise, if it isn't.
Far Left - Stella McCartney swallow print shirt - £485, Left - Twisting her melons! Chloe, circa Spring 2001, when Stella McCartney was the chief designer
I, unfortunately, couldn’t make the launch of Stella McCartney’s new menswear collection, so I’m judging on the SS17 lookbook and the couple of pieces they had at the recent matchesfashion.com press day.
Stella McCartney is a feminine label and because I’ve known this has been coming for a while, I’ve got my head around that being in the neck of the garment.
If you had asked me a few months ago what this was going to look like, I would have said something like Roland Mouret’s now defunct Mr. men’s collection: all dark, navy suits, safe and quality basics modelled on Stella's very stylish husband, Alasdhair Willis, who is in charge at Hunter.
Surprisingly, it’s a big collection that isn’t playing safe and is offering something for ‘members’ and ‘non-members’. It's just the entrance fee that many may have a problem with!
It’s expensive, which makes sense because of the womenswear positioning. Is the target customer the male to the female customer or the partner of the female Stella customer? If he's the male equivalent, he'll want to buy his own clothes. If he's the partner, you'd be a confident woman taking quite a risk taking this lot home. Zipper trousers, anybody?!
What we have is something that looks like West London’s version of East London. It's all a bit 'popping out for a pint of milk and a packet of fags on Primrose Hill', which is Stella McCartney's set. When I saw the swallow shirt, pictured, it brought to mind one of Stella McCartney's Chloe tops with bananas on from her time at the French fashion house.
It's a tough time to launch menswear. Many well established brands are finding it difficult to shift fashion at these prices. It needs to be the best or special, or both. Kering, McCartney's parent company, obviously want her to expand. First kid's, now men's.
This could falter by falling in the gap between not being fashion enough for those who want serious, standout pieces and not being wearable enough for those men with deep enough pockets to afford it. Let's see how this develops.
You can pre-order the SS17 collection now.
Left - Stella McCartney - Bonded technical trench coat - £1605
Right - Will you join Stella McCartney's menswear club?
Right - The kind of bag most brands giveaway for free. Yours for £290 - Stella McCartney - Tomorrow Print Backpack
Below - Stella recreated the famous Beatles crossing at Abbey Road, London for the launch of her new men's collection. Grooming by Aveda