It would be impossible to find someone in the world of fashion who doesn’t know the name Balenciaga. In fact, I’d happily put my money on most people knowing this iconic name, whether they are in fashion or not. The reason behind this is clear: Balenciaga is not just a name, but also an identity.
Carved out by a man named Cristobal, the Balenciaga fashion house is one that benefitted from an incredibly talented master couturier from the outset. Unlike most designers, Balenciaga was trained in all aspects of the making process: from design to dressmaking. He counted Madeleine Vionnet and Coco Chanel as friends and was part of the original elite club of undeniably talented and innovative fashion couturiers.
When he started his eponymous fashion house in 1917, Balenciaga was probably acutely unaware of just how influential his designs, and his approach to fashion, would become.
Balenciaga is the only designer who dares to do what he wants – Elsa Schiaparelli
Balenciaga did things differently and it was this that made him stand out as a couturier. He studied each garment himself, meticulously making alterations and was known for starting a design with fabric instead of the traditional sketch. Much like Madeleine Vionnet and Madame Grés, of whom influence his early career, he would drape fabric on mannequins to create his designs.
He was unconventional in his methods, refusing to give his designs names and choosing not to bow at the end of his shows – preferring the clothes to speak for themselves. He chose models whom he trained himself and revolutionised the female silhouette with almost unrealistic ideas including volume and abstract designs.
It therefore seems fitting that the V&A tomorrow launch an exhibition dedicated entirely to his life; showcasing the beginning of an empire, the impact of his work, and the many designers he has influenced, and continues to influence, today.
Much like Dior’s New Look and Chanel’s LBD’s, Balenciaga was famed for his tailoring, including his innovative sleeves and semi-fit shapes – his unique approach to dressing making him a favourite with clients from all over the world, including Ava Gardner. Their loyalty never wavered and the closure of his fashion house in 1968 and his death just four year later marked the end of an era. One particular client, Mona Bismarck, was reported to have stayed in her room for three days when the fashion house closed. Bismarck was a particularly devoted client – even her gardening outfits were Balenciaga.
The exhibition at the V&A thoughtfully depicts the stages of Balenciaga’s career from young apprentice to Master of Haute Couturier and eventually icon.
My favourite part of the exhibition had to be the embellishment. Anyone that knows me knows I’m obsessed with colour, texture and print. Balenciaga was a designer who embraced new techniques and pushed the boundaries in both design and materials. He worked tirelessly to create beautiful embellishments to adorn his creations and worked closely with the men and women helping to create them in Paris, a place special to his heart. French firm Lesage was responsible for creating many of the beautiful embellishments,and the quality of their craftsmanship helped underpin each and every design.
What I loved most about his embellishment is it’s precision, – every layer meticulously planned, every material thought about. Every bead and button and feather and design different from the next. It’s simplicity and ability to still be as modern in 2017 as it was in 1950 – a statement that can be applied to everyone of Balenciaga’s designs.
If you want to step into the world of Cristobal Balenciaga, the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion Exhibition opens to the public today.