There are few fashion designers who are so universally well regarded as Cristóbal Balenciaga, yet he has never become a household name in the same way the infinitely quotable Coco Chanel has (which might have something to do with his aversion to publicity). This is despite the fact that Chanel herself described him as ‘a couturier in the truest sense of the word… The others are simply fashion designers.’ The V&A’s latest sure-to-be-a-smash-hit fashion exhibition aims to remedy this imbalance, and make the king of couture as instantly recognisable as Karl Lagerfeld’s cat. Here are just three reasons you should see it.
1. Those ’60s shapes
If the fashion of the 1950s belongs to Christian Dior and his ‘New Look’, then the 1960s are Balenciaga’s. And while the Bambi-like Twiggy was the face of the era, those sleek, simple silhouettes that she’s so famed for wearing were pioneered by the Spanish couturier.
2. The hidden intricacies of his designs
Volume and silhouette may be key to Balenciaga, but don’t let the apparent simplicity fool you. The V&A has X-rayed some key pieces, revealing strategically placed dress weights in his seemingly minimal designs. These ensure the garment hangs just right. Don’t try this one at home: dumbbells won’t have the same effect.
3. His ongoing influence
As Christian Dior said, ‘Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga.’ Well, this exhibition shows that designers are still following his lead. This babydoll dress could easily be a Molly Goddard, whose voluminous use of tulle has editors reaching for the superlatives.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. V&A. Tube: South Kensington. Sat May 27-Feb 2018. £12.