At the same time as Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy were making sophisticated fashions for the well to do woman, Cristobal Balenciaga was experimenting with pattern cutting and pioneered a new wave in design during the latter part of the twentieth century.
Credited as creating clothes which were both modern and cutting edge, his passion was for highly structured garments, strong silhouettes and minimalist couture. Particularly working with corsetry, which from the outside looks sleek, but was actually a feat of engineering under the layers of fabric.
Iconic fashion silhouettes such as the trapeze, empire line and baby-doll were all invented by Balenciaga, along with the envelope dress and raglan sleeve. When Christian Dior declared, "haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives." It gave the reclusive designer recognition and even more kudos than he already had.
A big believer in 'listening to the fabric', was what kept him apart from his contemporaries, and he was not scared to take risks. Nevertheless the shapes and patterns which were completely unique at the time, have influenced designers to this day, and the latest summer blockbuster at the V&A Museum in London celebrates this genius, with a show that focuses on the creative era in 50s /60s.
For inspiration on how fashion history has affected fashion present is a mammoth task, and choosing some of the most well known and sought-after pieces, curator Cassie Davies-Strodder had her work cut out.
The result is 100 pieces and 20 hats from Balenciaga's later Parisian career. Also on show is video footage, sketch books and private collector's archives, as well as a pioneering collaboration with X-Ray artist Nick Veasey who worked from a mobile x-ray unit built specifically for use within the museum's archives. The x-rays, which include images of a 1954 balloon hem dress and a 1967 cape dress,of the drape dress, where you can see the meticulous metal work which goes on underneath the fabric.
Moving upstairs, the gallery opens out to 21st century designers who have been inspired by Balenciaga's inventive way of working including Simone Rocha, Iris Van Herpen, Azzedine Alaia, Issey Miyake, Gareth Pugh and Roksanda Ilinčić.
There is also an interesting array of images of images from high profile magazine shoots, along with numerous items from the designer himself, and you can even model the skirt/cape should you wish!
This exhibition was conceived to mark the centenary of Cristobal Balenciaga's first fashion house, and the 80th anniversary of his Paris salon.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion runs until 18 February 2018 and is well worth a visit.
For details, visit vam.ac.uk/balenciaga
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