Katie Godman, Dex Grodner, Stacey Richards
The work of the master behind glass showed a stark divide between Cristobal Balenciaga’s glamorous 1950s studio and the modern world. An overwhelming focus on craft, creative genius and celebrity cemented this divide. One of the most eye catching aspects of the exhibition was the x-rays of key Balenciaga garments, allowing the spectator a glimpse at the internal workings of a master couturier.
Balenciaga originals Gareth Pugh
Artist Nick Veasey was behind the dissecting of the pieces. As a way of curating fashion, this method gave both a visually pleasing aesthetic, alongside a pattern cutter’s wonder at the genius of the garments.
The exhibition followed the V&A’s typical model, traditional period pieces in the mood-lit maze of ground floor cabinets and more modern disciples of avant-garde craft above.
The ground floor charts the development of Balenciaga’s designs through the 1950s and 1960s, and the shifts in his influences from the bull fighting, priestly cassocks and Flamenco dancing of his native Spain to kimonos and saris of Asia.
The exhibition features mannequins padded to the proportions of models of the day, giving consideration to the shift that has consequently occurred. Once mannequins were fitted to the individual, but now models are selected to fit standardised mannequins. Anecdotes accompanied the acquisitioned wardrobes of celebrity fans, a dress once owned by Countess Mona Bismarck recounts her locking herself away in her room for three days after the tragedy of Balenciaga ‘s retirement.
To demonstrate the intricate nature of his designs London College of Fashion students made calico replicas displayed alongside original pieces, showing the extent of his craft. Upstairs had offerings from modern designers which showed how Balenciaga’s influence stretched far and wide.
This approach offers something for everyone, while some want to apricate the craft of ‘the master’ (a title asserted in captions throughout displays), others want to see how modern designers would push the limits of garment shape and design further still. Inspired by Balenciaga, the exhibition’s upstairs atrium features a surprising mix of works from the gothic stylings of Gareth Pugh to experimental sportswear of Calvin Klein. Nonetheless, the displays of Balenciaga’s own work are able to add a personal flare to the otherwise mysterious and distant worlds of haute couture. An impromptu conversation with a member of V and A staff who had spilled nail varnish on her own Balenciaga wedding gown, brought this world closer and begged the question of how different the exhibition would be if it featured ‘lived in’ pieces, instead of museum artifacts, which had mostly been afforded the care of archives.