Rachel Mellon collection in the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum

Discover the garments made by Balenciaga for Mrs. Rachel Mellon; conserved by her and finally donated to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum.

By Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Museo Cristóbal Balenciaga

Rachel L. Mellon (17 de mayo de 1968)Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Rachel L. Mellon (1910-2014) represents the archetype of Balenciaga´s clientele: wealthy, sensitive and exclusive.

Ensemble (february 1968) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Philanthropist, collector, garden designer, icon of elegance and discretion… and for more than a decade exclusively dressed by Balenciaga.

Hubert de Givenchy and Mrs. MellonCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Thanks to Hubert de Givenchy, great admirer of Balenciaga and personal friend of both, from 2004 until 2014, the Cristóbal Balenciaga museum received important donations from personal wardrobe, and associated documentation, of this great collector.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa (2011/2011)Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

In 2017, as a sign of gratitude to this great benefactor, the museum organised an extensive exhibition of the collection she had donated, under the artistic direction of Hubert de Givenchy.

Sketch by Hubert de GivenchyCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The close relationship between Givenchy and Bunny Mellon helped to reflect some of the lady's character in the exhibition. In the image we see a sketch of the room layout, drawed by Givenchy together with a reproduction of a work by Diebenkorn which belonged to Mrs. Mellon.

Sketch of model 181 (1961) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The Mellon collection consists of 660 items of clothing, 138 original sketches and 250 documentary references.

Cocktail dress (1958) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Highlighted Pieces

"Private collections have their physiognomy which, obviously, reflect the taste and attitude of those who put them together…" wrote John Rewald, on referring to the Mellon couple's collection. 

Cocktail dress (1957) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 2000.05

Over her twelve years as a buyer, and later as a collector of garments by Balenciaga, she chose for herself key works in the fashion designer’s career, such as this balloon cocktail dress to which she changed some parts.

Cocktail coat (1956) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 2000.45

Mrs. Rachel said about her first purchase in 1956: "Johnny Schlumberger, my close friend, sent me to Balenciaga’s fitting rooms to have my measurements taken...".

"...that autumn he sent me two dresses and a three-quarter length coat made in a marvellous black fabric. I must admit that I loved them. That’s when I started to patronize Balenciaga”.

Model (february 1966) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

"His daywear designs were perfectly suited to the lives of his clients" remarked Rachel L. Mellon.

CuadrilléCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Comfort, simplicity and elegance were the characteristics sought by Mrs. Mellon in Balenciaga’s models.

Day Ensemble (1961) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

"As usual, his backs are important. Remember, his backs are as important in the history of fashion as his fronts”, proclaimed Carmel Snow in the Waterloo Daily Courier a year before Rachel L. Mellon began patronizing the Paris salons.

Tailored suit (1967) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The fashion designer’s creative evolution generated iconic models which were featured in the best and most important fashion magazines, such as this skirt suit published in Harper’s Bazaar.

Model (february 1967) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

"Nothing should be noticed” declared Rachel L. Mellon, in one of the few interviews she gave to the New York Times, in 1969. This idea has its reflection in this magnificent cocktail dress from 1967.

Orange dressCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The fabric and colour were chosen by Mrs. Mellon herself, and the result highlights the timelessness and modernity of the cut.

Cocktail dress and coat ensemble (1958) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

"One of the joys of my life was to have known Cristóbal Balenciaga. He understood luxury and simplicity with deep sensitivity. His evening dresses were indescribably fascinating” said Rachel L. Mellon.

Sketch (16 september, 1954)Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Rachel Mellon’s importance as a client can also be understood from the revelation that the director of the Paris salon, Mlle. Renée Tamisier, would personally attend to her and send her sketches with notes.

Cocktail outfit (1958) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The strategic folds to create volumes is a recurring element throughout Balenciaga’s career. In this cocktail dress, the volume of the tulip skirt is emphasised with the sobriety of the bodice.

Cocktail dress (1957) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The discretion shown in the choice of pale blue pleated lace for this Baby doll cocktail dress underlines the importance of an element as ethereal as it is essential in Balenciaga’s creations: air.

Evening ensemble (1958) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

The models selected by Rachel Mellon reveal an understanding of the Balenciaga philosophy, the relationship of the space between the body and the garment, the importance of the cut and the excellence of the materials.

Rachel Mellon adored the colours and the textures of the fabrics, like in this evening dress in cyclamen-coloured shantung and lace.

Evening dress (1957) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 2000.60

The Basque designer first started applying asymmetry to garments in the late ‘40s, for both tailored wear and evening gowns. In the decade of the ‘50s, he consolidates the practice with the balloon and peacock train dresses, as can be seen here.

Night dress (february 1961) by Cristóbal BalenciagaCristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

"It's rare, but grand when a woman like Mrs. Mellon stays out of the public eye-remaining elegantly private" wrote John Fairchild in his book “The Fashionable Savages”.

Evening dress (1962) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 2000.17

The naked elegance of the evening dress in black gazar emphasises the severe sobriety characterising many creations by the master Balenciaga and which in this evening dress dogmatises the importance of the back.

Long evening dress (1965) by Cristóbal BalenciagaOriginal Source: CBM 2000.23 ab

Constructions studied to the millimetre which achieve refined volumes focussed on the essential: beauty and proportions. Pieces with a history of creation and elegance which come together in an indispensable collection for understanding the designer and the collector.

Credits: Story

Exhibition produced by Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum (Getaria).

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