Tuesday, 1 August 2017

London in June Part 2: Balenciaga Shaping Fashion...

Hello lovelies,

For my second London post, I am going to concentrate solely on our visit to the beautiful Victoria and Albert Museum to view the 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' exhibition.  My Mam had never been to the V & A before, so I was really excited to take her there; it's one of my favourite places to visit when in the city.

I like to think that I know a fair amount about fashion and I absolutely adore fashion history (I'm always trying to learn more about my favourite designers!) but Balenciaga is a designer that I'm ashamed to say, I knew very little about prior to visiting the exhibition.  I was really excited to learn more about 'The Master' and build on my fashion education.  And boy did I learn a lot!  If your main interest lies in modern day fast fashion, it's clear to see from the off how influential Balenciaga's work was for its time and how apparent it is in today's fashion world.  Let me introduce you to Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) (Warning! This post is extremely photo heavy, but beautiful!)

Balenciaga is one of the most revered designers of the 20th Century; he was known by his contemporaries as 'The Master'.  Most striking of all particularly in correlation with this exhibition was his impressive use of fabric through sculpturing and his manipulation of textiles.  His creations varied in terms of style, one garment could be structured with detailed concealed boning, whilst the next could display fabric draped loosely and freely, yet still able to take the shape he desired it to.  His knowledge of fabric and figure and form was the real focal point of the exhibition for me; I was so impressed with his talent and ability.

Shaping Fashion is split into two sections, the ground floor showcases Balenciaga's style and craftsmanship, thanks to the V & A's extensive collection of his work from the 1950s and 60s, whilst the upper floor exhibits work from his contemporaries and those other designers heavily influenced by his artistry.  The ground floor also displays some of the collections from his clients, to give the viewer a feel for what it was like to be styled by Balenciaga himself.

Starting at the very beginning, it is clear to see how brave Balenciaga was with shape and colour.  This green dress from his 1961 collection is both abstract and original and gives a clear understanding from the off at how brilliant he was at manipulating fabric.

The images below have a completely different feel.  Born in Spain, Balenciaga was clearly proud of his Spanish heritage and allowed this to influence much of his work.  The black and white embellished ensemble below takes its inspiration from the costume of a matador or terero (a Spanish bull fighter) yet still manages to feel elegant in its execution.

Flamenco dancing also held a strong influence in Balenciaga's work along with black lace, another fabric symbolic of traditional Spanish attire.

Some of Balenciaga's later garments played around with more architectural shapes.  This pink dress (below) from 1961 with lantern sleeves is made from 'gazor' silk.  This fabric was produced by Swiss manufacturer Abraham and became a firm favourite of Balenciaga's due to it's stiffness at holding shape but lightweight wearability.  As a side note, I attended the exhibition wearing a top I that I had recently bought from Zara, complete with lantern sleeves (you can see it in some of my photos from the day).  Although this was unplanned, it's a perfect example of how Balenciaga's influence is still important and prevalent today.

Balenciaga preferred to make his creations rather than to sketch, so he employed sketch artists to transfer his ideas to paper.  Much of the collections featured in 'Shaping Fashion' show the original sketches paired up with he fabric that each garment was to be made in.

A book of fabric samples

'La Tulipe' a dress from the AW couture collection of 1965, is a stunning piece of fashion artistry.  Featured extensively in the exhibition, this piece shows how Balenciaga was able to marry sculpturing with draping seamlessly and effectively.  The inside of the dress contained corsetry which attached itself close to the body, to create a free form illusion from the front.  An X-ray image of the dress can be seen in the background below to show the concealed structural detail.

This X-ray image shows what was going on underneath the dress

Balenciaga's art of draping fabric can be seen in various examples throughout the ground floor of the exhibition, highlighting further his impressive understanding of how fabrics could be manipulated effectively.  Draping of fabric is still a highly popular technique used by the house today.

 Made in dressmaker's fabric first; make rather than sketch

 Concealed structure and draping married together again

As well as his own influences in Spain, Balenciaga was also inspired by traditions from around the world seen in his kimono dresses and those inspired by India.  The Kimonos were rounder in shape, whereas the Indian inspiration was more sculpted and elegant.

 I love this dress, complete with heavy silk satin fabric and detailed embroidery, it's a dress fit for royalty (said to be inspired by the gowns has mother once altered when she was a seamstress, owned by her wealthy clients)

Another interesting point to note is that Balenciaga was the first designer to use the 'dress on a stand technique' having padded dummies built to the exact framework of his models.

One of my favourite garments from the exhibition was this dress/cape below.  Designed just as that, to be worn as either a full skirt or a cape, it really shows off Balenciaga's ingenuity as a designer (and I loved trying it on!!).

Which do you prefer? I like the skirt but maybe not with my Converse shoes!

The devil is in the details: Hats...

Balenciaga's hats were very popular with his wealthy clients, and he had strict instructions for how each should be worn.  For those who couldn't afford his work or simply couldn't get their hands on it, copies were made by Harrods and sold in Harrods branded boxes.  Demand was so high for Balenciaga's work that this made it more accessible, much like the fast fashion in our society today! Who'd have thought that Balenciaga, Harrods and Primark would all have something in common!!

Lesage embroidery...

I found the Lesage section simply beautiful.  I've seen Lesage garments in a few fashion exhibitions that I've attended, but never like this!  Each piece was embroidered to shape and followed strict guidelines to minimise waste.  The pieces shown here sum up couture at its best, real understated elegance and beauty.

To wrap up my Balenciaga adventure, I'm going to show you the clients collections, followed by the work of other designers inspired by Mr B.  Starting with the collections, they round up and show off all of his techniques and artistry as a designer beautifully; you can see why he was in such high demand (and why some clients went into mourning after his death!)

Shapes popularised by Balenciaga through his couture collections and how they were received:

A great way to see all of Balenciaga's techniques side by side...

The structure of this wide-winged cocktail dress is my favourite from this collection, although it was not well-received!

Stunning collections from clients...

The upper floor-the world inspired by Balenciaga...

I absolutely loved Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion.  His relevance as a designer proved that shaping fashion was exactly what he did; without Balenciaga we probably wouldn't have some of the amazing techniques we have today.  Other designers draped and structured, but his conjunction of the two helped to create some absolutely stunning pieces; the Master is worthy of his accolade!  I loved learning about him and would really recommend the exhibition to any fashion history lover; it's simply breathtaking.  Thanks to the V & A too for allowing photography; otherwise I don't feel I could've done this exhibition justice-an outstanding collection of fashion artistry!


This is not a sponsored post-I visited Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion of my own accord, but would really recommend it.  It runs until January 2018 and tickets can be bought from the V & A here

I'd also recommend the exhibition catalogue 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' which can be bought here


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