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A year of celebrating Spanish master couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga

Kunang Helmi
Kunang Helmi

Freelance writer

Paris | Fri, April 7, 2017 | 08:02 am
  • Half-canvases reconstructed in Balenciaga Archives, according to flat originals in archives, shown next to a sculpture in Musee Bourdelle, Paris.

    Half-canvases reconstructed in Balenciaga Archives, according to flat originals in archives, shown next to a sculpture in Musee Bourdelle, Paris. OF Balenciaga Archives Paris, for Palais Galliera/File

    Half-canvases reconstructed in Balenciaga Archives, according to flat originals in archives, shown next to a sculpture in Musee Bourdelle, Paris.

  • Balenciaga at work in Paris, 1968.

    Balenciaga at work in Paris, 1968. OF Henri Cartier-Bresson, Magnum Agency, specifically for the V&A show/File

    Balenciaga at work in Paris, 1968.

  • Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing a coat by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1950.

    Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing a coat by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1950. OF Conde Nast, Irving Penn Foundation for V&A Museum/File

    Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing a coat by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1950.

  • Cocktail dress made of Staron silk in rust tone, Winter 1960, Balenciaga Archives Paris.

    Cocktail dress made of Staron silk in rust tone, Winter 1960, Balenciaga Archives Paris. OF Palais Galliera for Paris show/File

    Cocktail dress made of Staron silk in rust tone, Winter 1960, Balenciaga Archives Paris.

  • Evening gown, Winter 1963, Gazar Shantung lined with silk, embroidered with rose pink mock pearls and strass on rose pink satin.

    Evening gown, Winter 1963, Gazar Shantung lined with silk, embroidered with rose pink mock pearls and strass on rose pink satin. OF Palais Galliera collection for Paris show/File

    Evening gown, Winter 1963, Gazar Shantung lined with silk, embroidered with rose pink mock pearls and strass on rose pink satin.

  • Robe made of marquisette (gauze) cut in biais, pale pink ribbon as part of Collection Palais Galliera Winter 1967, and Cocktail dress in Chantilly, volant skirt with a belt of pale rose satin ribbon as part of Collection Palais Galliera Summer 1965.

    Robe made of marquisette (gauze) cut in biais, pale pink ribbon as part of Collection Palais Galliera Winter 1967, and Cocktail dress in Chantilly, volant skirt with a belt of pale rose satin ribbon as part of Collection Palais Galliera Summer 1965. OF Palais Galliera/File

    Robe made of marquisette (gauze) cut in biais, pale pink ribbon as part of Collection Palais Galliera Winter 1967, and Cocktail dress in Chantilly, volant skirt with a belt of pale rose satin ribbon as part of Collection Palais Galliera Summer 1965.

OF

It has been a century since the legendary Cristobal Balenciaga, son of a fisherman mayor of Getaria village, and a seamstress, opened his first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain, and 80 years since his couture house was established at 10 Avenue George V in Paris.

Such was the seminal importance of the great Spanish couturier that other renowned couturiers, including Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, admired his masterful tailored cuts and attention to detail. Dior noted, "Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives."

The Musee Bourdelle show opens Palais Galliera’s Spanish season, which will continue with Costumes espagnols entre ombre et lumière (Spanish Costumes from dark to bright) at the Maison Victor Hugo in June and will finish with Mariano Fortuny at Palais Galliera in October.

For Balenciaga, black was more than a color, or even a non-color; he saw it as a vibrant matter, by turns opaque or transparent, matt or shiny – a dazzling interplay of light, which owed as much to the luxurious quality of the fabrics as to the apparent simplicity of its cut. Deeply influenced by the differing blacks of his native Spain, he even made black the color of his canvas (toile), the prototype he used, usually in black ecru cotton. Cutting and correcting in this color helped him sculpt the first draft of the garment which was finally cut and tailored by seamstresses according to the result. For Balenciaga, dresses took shape when they were draped on the dress form. Only his assistants used drawings to help them carry out instructions.

Read also: Netizens ridicule Balenciaga's $4,900 tote that looks like a blanket bag

The idea of focusing solely on the color black for the Parisian show came from a visit to Madrid, explained Véronique Belloir, the director of haute couture collections at Palais Galliera, during an advance preview. "We realized that we could really spotlight creation, shape, volume and construction because we weren’t distracted by color."

The duality of light and shade is inherent in any form of artistic expression in Spain. The two essential qualities of black, “brilliant black”, the black of elegance and ceremony, and “matt black”, the color of darkness and mourning, were familiar juxtapositions in Balenciaga’s palette.

The show with more than 60 of Balenciaga’s costumes, jewelry and head-gear amid the sculptures of Antoine Bourdelle, is a fitting tribute because the couturier was regarded as a sculptor of costumes. Couture and sculpture have similar objectives because harmony comes from balanced proportions, movement from the choice of materials.

Olivier Saillard, responsible for the mise-en-scene, made the most of the vertical space, skillfully placing the oeuvre (work) of the Spanish master couturier amid Bourdelle’s sculptures, with many placed high up that visitors can also admire the perfectly finished details of the garments. Not all the garments are in black, some are in richly colored fabrics, or black off-set with details. Photos and other documents complete the picture.

Read also: Visiting the luxurious but not elitist Le Grand Musee du Parfum in Paris

In London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, rather than a retrospective, "Balenciaga : Shaping Fashion" will focus in detail on the latter part of Balenciaga’s long career in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s, which was one of his most prolific periods as “the master” of haute couture. It was Cecil Beaton who laid the corner-stone of the museum’s collection of Balenciaga creations in the 1970s.

Over 100 garments and 20 hats will be on display, many having never been shown before. For Balenciaga, more than any other accessories, hats, played a significant role in balancing the volumes. Their size and shape were an extension of an inky silhouette, or a sober counterpoint to the colors of a model.

It was during the two decades after World War II that Balenciaga not only dressed some of the most important women of the time, but also introduced novel shapes like the tunic, the sack, “baby doll” and shift dress, still style icons in our day. Highlights will include ensembles made for Hollywood star Ava Gardner, together with dresses and hats belonging to socialite and 1960s fashion icon Gloria Guinness. Meanwhile many pieces worn by one of the world’s wealthiest women, Mona von Bismarck can be admired. Von Bismarck commissioned everything from ball-gowns to gardening shorts from Balenciaga.

Archive sketches, patterns, photographs, fabric samples, many of which were created and manufactured specifically to Balenciaga’s instructions, together with catwalk footage reveal the uncompromising approach Balenciaga took to haute couture. In addition x-rays, animated patterns and short films on couture-making processes inform budding fashion designers and fashionistas of the Spanish couturier’s exceptional dedication to detail. All these elements will illustrate his unique approach to fashion and also feature his lasting legacy visible in the show in the work of Emmanuel Ungaro, Hubert de Givenchy and many others, who understood and admired the illustrious global vision of Cristobal Balenciaga.

 

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Balenciaga, Working in Black

Place: Musee Bourdelle, Paris, France

Date: Until July 16 July

Balenciaga, Shaping Fashion

Place: Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

Date: May 27 to Feb. 18, 2018

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