This evening ensemble comprises a sleeveless dress and matching cape. It represents several aspects of the work of the Spanish couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga, who was active in Paris from 1937 till his retirement in 1968, only a year after the outfit was made for his faithful client, Mrs Loel Guinness.
Firstly, it relies on deep knowledge of the sculptural possibilities of certain firm textiles, and on letting the textile determine the cut of the garments. Balenciaga worked with the Swiss textile manufacturer Abraham in creating this fabric, silk gazar.
Secondly, it typifies the increasing simplicity and abstraction of his designs from the early 1960s onwards when applied decoration began to play a lesser role than dramatic shapes.
Thirdly, it reveals familiarity with the austere quotidian dress of the Catholic clergy (mantle and soutane). The area of Spain from which Balenciaga came was densely populated by such figures clad in black – and the colour, layered effect, circular and tubular shapes relate closely to their garb. In other respects it is entirely modern.
X-ray by Nick Veasey, 2016. © Nick Veasey