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All Eyes on Balenciaga

Culture Watch
Dovima with Sacha, cloche and suit by Balenciaga, Café des Deux Magots, Paris, 1955. Photograph by Richard Avedon © The Richard Avedon Foundation.

This Summer, fashion may take a runway break, but it is in full force in the museum space. One of London’s leading institutions, the V&A, presents “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion,” the first UK exhibition to explore the work and legacy of the Spanish couturier.

The exhibition showcases more than 100 garments and hats crafted by Balenciaga, his protégés and perhaps most interestingly—the contemporary designers who the late great master continues to influence today. Though his entire career at his namesake house was one of enchantment, it is the decades of the 1950s and 60s that are considered his most creative—and when he dressed some of the most renowned women of the age, including Ava Gardner, Gloria Guinness and Mona von Bismarck, who commissioned everything from ball-gowns to gardening shorts from the couturier.

The exhibition features examples of Balenciaga's revolutionary shapes from this period—the tunic, sack, baby doll and shift dresses—all of which remain style staples today. Alongside these iconic garments are archive sketches, patterns, photographs, fabric samples and catwalk footage, providing a unique insight into Balenciaga's salons and workrooms. The results of new, forensic investigations into the garments—including a collaboration with X-ray artist Nick Veasey and a digital pattern making project with the London College of Fashion—reveal the hidden details and processes which make Balenciaga's work so exceptional.

The second part of the exhibition explores the lasting impact of Balenciaga, tracing his influence through the work of over 30 fashion designers across the last 50 years. Pieces designed by Balenciaga's former apprentices André Courrèges and Emanuel Ungaro demonstrate a signature minimalist aesthetic, recently revived by Phoebe Philo for Celine and in the strong lines of J.W. Anderson. His pattern cutting and explorations with volume can be seen in the work of Molly Goddard and Demna Gvasalia, while his creative use of new materials is referenced in the work of former Balenciaga creative director Nicolas Ghesquière.


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