A hundred years on from the opening of the Spanish couturier’s first boutique, the V&A explores his profound influence on both his contemporaries and today’s designers.
Often hailed as a ‘designer’s designer’ for his sculptural creations, Cristóbal Balenciaga was also credited as ‘the master of us all’ by Christian Dior and ‘the only couturier in the truest sense of the world’ by none other than Coco Chanel.
If that wasn’t enough to convince the fashion novice of his pivotal importance in 20th-century dressmaking, this exhibition will shed light on how he revolutionised the industry during his lifetime, as well as highlighting examples of his continuing legacy.
Marking the 100th anniversary of the first store he opened in San Sebastián and the 80th anniversary of his significant relocation to Paris, the display collates more than 120 garments and accessories created by Balenciaga and other prestigious designers that he influenced. For the first retrospective of the couturier ever to be held in the UK, the V&A has been able to draw on its extensive archives to present Balenciaga material that it has never shown before.
To help visitors appreciate the complex and often-painstaking construction involved in Balenciaga’s designs, the exhibition reveals just how his signature elaborate shapes were achieved by complementing many pieces of clothing with x-rays, sketches, photographs and film. For example, when deconstructed, a silk taffeta evening dress he modelled at the height of his career in 1953 would reveal boning and padding, metal and wire supports, and a chiffon lining.