Connie Coles-Garrad explores Balenciaga’s influence in shaping today’s fashion.
The Victoria and Albert museum, situated in South Kensington, is hands down one of my favourite galleries on this planet; full of eclectic collections from around the world, it’s one of my go-to spots for a bit of cultural mindfulness. As a fashion aficionado, the V&A is a top destination for some superior fashion exhibitions; previously home to Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition; Shoes: Pleasure and Pain and a presentation of Italian fashion: Eleganza.
After living to regret missing the McQueen exhibition a few years back (cry); I knew I had to catch Balenciaga’s collection, currently gracing one of the V&A’s galleries, before it disappears in just a few weeks. Cue the arrival of my forever bestie in London; the one with whom I spent hours sweating over the sewing machine and crying over our portfolios in our textile class in high school. Quite frankly, I couldn’t think of anyone better to accompany me to this elegant exhibition.
Born in 1895 in the Spanish Basque Country, Balenciaga trained in the northern city of San Sebastian before relocating to Paris, which is still home to the House of Balenciaga. Known by others in the industry as The Master, Balenciaga was infamous amongst the high fashion society of this era. In the words of Cristian Dior, haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga, a quotation of which I believe to capture the influential essence of the Spanish designer.
An ability to create a one-seamed coat, pleated dresses from a single piece of material and dual use garments are just some of the ways in which Balenciaga has created his name; whilst maintaining the belief that the fabric should choose the design and not the other way around. Although a chicken and egg question for some, the real-life proof of Balenciaga’s successful designs has left me convinced that he did indeed know a thing or two about this creative process.
One aspect which really caught my eye was the obscure shapes and extreme volumes which Balenciaga chose for his garments. He created shapes that stood away from his clients’ figures with the aim of framing them rather than restricting their bodies; subsequently becoming influential in changing the shape of women’s fashion. This style has since influenced designers, such as Japanese brand Comme des Garçons whose designs are also exhibited amongst Balenciaga’s collection.
Striking shapes, embellished designs and pure elegance at its finest. I guess I didn’t quite realise the extent of the Basque designer’s influence. An influence which is still evident over 40 years after his death and one which continues to be interpreted by loyal Balenciaga brand designers in the 21st Century.
Take advantage of having this haute-couture, transient exhibition at your door and don’t miss the collection whilst tickets are still available.
£13 or £10 for students, until February 18th.
All photos are the author’s own.