Marking the centenary of Balenciaga’s (1895-1972) first fashion house in San Sebastian, and the 80thanniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris, Shaping Fashion at the V&A, London, is the first ever UK show dedicated to the Spanish Basque designer. Focusing on the 1950s and 1960s – decades of creative ingenuity – this unprecedented exhibition tracks the origins of revolutionary shapes and forms still influential to the fashion industry today.
Featuring the tunic, the sack, the “baby doll” and the shift dress, the legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga still resonates today. Whilst many contemporary designers are looking for new ways to innovate through avant-garde practices, three-dimensional printing and adaptable, functional fabrics, a great deal of present-day practitioners still refer to the pioneering ideas of this iconic brand; Hubert de Givenchy, Erdem, André Courrèges, Emanuel Ungaro, Phoebe Philo, Molly Goddard, Demna Gvasalia and J.W. Anderson are amongst a long list of names who utilise the minimal aesthetic, layered materials and soft, flowing lines as inspiration. As Cassie Davies-Strodder, exhibition curator, states: “Revered by his contemporaries, his exquisite craftsmanship, pioneering use of fabric and innovative cutting set the tone for the modernity of the late 20th century fashion.” These names can be found within the Balenciaga’s Legacy section – the other strands pertaining to the infrastructure of design and production, entitled Workrooms and Front of House. Altogether these chapters look at the figure through a threefold sense of understanding: ideas, manufacture and cultural resonance.
Further to charting the radical steps in cutting, volume and formal consideration, the V&A offer a unique marriage between science and fashion; using Nick Veasey’s x-ray technology, the gallery offers a glimpse into the skeletal structure of the collections – something never seen before by audiences. Looking at how the garments hang through the use of bodices and boning, these steps in digitalisation have enabled viewers to look more closely inside dresses that demonstrate a sheer expanse of imagination and craftsmanship – many of the garments made from a single piece of fabric. For the first time the V&A has used x-ray technology to take a forensic look at the hidden details inside Cristóbal Balenciaga’s garments.