The Victoria and Albert Museum concentrates on the designer’s legacy on fashion in a classy and elegant exhibition that is filled with detail that would have made the designer proud.
Cristóbal Balenciaga was a fashion designer who was always bold and experimental in style, preferring to allow the fabric to lead the way in which he would then design a completely unique outfit and it is this idea that the Victoria and Albert Museum have chosen to concentrate on in this neatly constructed exhibition.
From beginning to end, the exhibition concentrates on the tiniest details that made Balenciaga’s fashion so unique and individual including only using one seam across the whole of his dresses, so that they would frame as opposed to restricting the figure. But while these are perhaps not the most attractive pieces on display, they also show that the designer was never afraid to be bold in terms of style and celebrating technique rather than style.
But the exhibition also reveals that this was a designer who wanted to ensure that every element of his creations was perfect, involved with every single step in creating the ‘perfect’ outfit. If there was the smallest mistake, he would have torn a design apart and started again – keeping full control at all times, something that was to influence other designers who admired his work including Hubert de Givenchy.
Many of the pieces that have been selected for Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion really showcase his flair and sense of drama, with many pieces – particularly in the bottom section – that reflect the way in which Spanish costume was a recurring theme throughout his work, including an evening jacket that brings to mind bull fighting or an evening dress that brings to mind the flamenco dance.
As you wonder around the bottom section, visitors really get a sense of how Balenciaga’s fashion developed and changed over the years – still experimental and focused on the fabrics and technique but with an increasing elegance that began to reflect the type of clients that he began to attract including Hollywood star Ava Gardner.
Meanwhile, the top half of the exhibition concentrates on how Balenciaga’s technique and attention to detail went on to influence countless other designers including Oscar de la Renta. It makes a nice contrast with the bottom level of the display as the visitors having learnt about the technique are now able to spot similar style in other designer’s work – that reveals a huge respect and admiration that Balenciaga inspired in others.
As ever with the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is an exhibition that is filled with detail and style. It can come across as slightly cold and clinical in delivery at times – but it is still deeply fascinating to wonder around and visit. Those looking to get into fashion would do well to visit and learn about it from a master of individual style.