Known as 'The Master' of haute couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga revolutionised the female silhouette
Introduced in 1958, the ‘baby doll’ dress controversially hid the shape of the woman’s figure when made in opaque fabric. In this example, made of sheer, Chantilly lace, Balenciaga both reveals and conceals the body. The lace hangs loosely over a fitted inner sheath, which has zips on both sides to ensure a tight fit.
The 'amphora line' recalled the curved shape of ancient Greek vases. The complex shape is formed by two pieces of fabric which join at the centre front, omitting the use of side seams – a signature for Balenciaga. The fabric continues around the back to fall in long gathered strips forming a decorative bow.
Skilful draping of the finest silk taffeta creates this effect. Great swathes of fabric, supported by hoops, are drawn towards the back from the centre front seam. The skirts are shaped through ‘bagging out’, which creates spacious voids which fill with air as the wearer walks. At the hem are ties which knot above the knee, lifting and ballooning the hem for yet more drama.
The 'Tulip' dress is made from stiff silk gazar which stands away from the body and provides the strong architectural shape. The fabric is joined at the back with no side seams – a signature of Balenciaga’s designs. A second panel of fabric hangs from the shoulders and is secured with bar tacks under the arms, creating the illusion of a loose, unstructured garment.
A virtuoso example of pattern-cutting, the main body of the dress is cut from a single piece of fabric joined at the centre back. The neck of the cape is painstakingly pieced to ensure a soft line which stands away from the body.
Balenciaga's impeccable craftsmanship and singular vision remain an aspiration for many designers. This animation shows how his iconic designs have inspired the work of 20th and 21st century fashion designers – from those he trained and mentored to those who work in the same tradition or cite him as an influence on their work today.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s leading museum of art and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion ran from 27 May 2017 – 18 Februray 2018 at the V&A
Exhibition sponsored by American Express
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