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Weekend 101

WEEKEND 101: BALENCIAGA SHAPING FASHION

LGHQ visit the Balenciaga Shaping Fashion exhibition at the V&A Museum in London.

Balenciaga is a mainstay in fashion history, his fashion house is still a key player in the industry, and he remains one of the best-known fashion designers, even after his death. He created a whole wealth of protégés, and designers continue to be inspired by Balenciaga’s work to this day.

” Cristobal Balenciaga’s work was so true to modernity and femininity. Innovative and inviting, his work is always inspiring.” – Simone Rocha

 

His mother was a seamstress, where he got his first taste of fashion, and no doubt exacting standards. Ateliers marked him as a challenging client – he demanded exact colour matches and tested fabrics rigorously. He had high standards, huge attention to detail and was constantly striving for ‘the perfect fit’. He didn’t let a single toile leave the atelier or go into production without his hand in it, whether it be a tweak of the silhouette or a tiny finishing detail – everything was important. This attention to detail shows in all the pieces at the V&A exhibition, which could leave you staring at each garments silhouette, embellishment and embroidery for hours on end.

 

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A man after our own heart, he paid close attention to how the pieces would be styled with accessories. He developed new silhouettes to incorporate accessories – such as a stand away collar to showcase a pearl necklace, or bracelet sleeves used to showcase jewelry.

He was strict about how his clothes were worn – he intended certain hats to go with certain clothing and to be worn in a particular way. One of his clients, Gloria Guinness, had custom hats made to go alongside her ensembles. She was instructed to wear it to the back of her head, tilted to sit just behind her ears.
Balenciaga was all about decadence, excess and glamour on the outside but really his work ethic and technique was about control and restraint. Like a duck above water, there is an intensity below that you don’t see but makes the above even more beautiful and graceful. Balenciaga made couture which appears so effortless and natural, despite the intensity of the work gone into it.

Upstairs at the Balenciaga Shaping Fashion exhibition is a whole selection of designers who quote themselves as designers who are inspired by the legend.

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Despite the time in which he lived and worked, Balenciaga had a very modern approach to dressing, inspirations and how he developed his designs. He was inspired heavily by the East – shown at the exhibition with his intricately embroidered and beaded Kimonos and Saris, as well as being inspired by his high-society clients to look to the traditional and regal past.
This is true in the inspiration of his proteges, as it is seen as a very modern approach now to pull inspiration globally, in such a melting pot of cultures in each designer’s native country.

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Even seemingly contemporary avant-garde designers look back in time and pull huge influence from Balenciaga. Gareth Pugh – who for his SS12 collection used inflatables to create giant sculptural dresses- producing a modern and almost industrial collection using this 21st century textile, still cites his major influence as Balenciaga and his use of volume and scale.

The modern meets the traditional quite literally throughout the display of original Balenciaga pieces, where artist Nick Veasey has created X-rays of original Balenciaga garments to show their detail and construction that normally would be hidden from view. These are beautiful and haunting, and give you a further glimpse behind-the-scenes of the garments, showing an honest view of the craft that has gone into each piece, each stitch and each seam.

 

 

 

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X-ray photograph of silk taffeta evening dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1955, Paris, France. X-ray by Nick Veasey, 2016. © Nick Veasey

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Craftsmanship and handmade techniques is a prevalent theme running through the exhibition, from Balenciaga’s work, to that of the contemporary designer, seen in exquisitely embroidered dresses by Erdem and painfully hand-pleated detailing from Issey Miyake. Avant-garde is all about beauty in artistry, but this has trickled down to the mainstream. Attention to craft isn’t just being seen in high-end garments nowadays, but has translated to the lower end, so we are seeing more and more of this even on the high street. Balenciaga’s legacy lives on and leaves no corner of the fashion industry untouched.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion runs from May 27th 2017 – February 18th 2018 at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

 

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