Was Cristobel Balenciaga celebrating diversity of form in the 1950s/60s when he created exquisite pieces celebrating myriad shapes from the book of the geometry?
The exhibit at V&A does make one think so. The voluminous garments which are intended to stay away from the body are as relevant today as they were when they were first introduced. In fact, they were considered fairly controversial when they were introduced at a time when Dior’s New Look with its nipped in waist and feminine shapes was all the rage.
It is quite an achievement in the field of fashion to introduce completely new silhouettes. And yet, Balenciaga is credited with introducing timeless silhouettes such as the shift dress, the cocoon coat, the babydoll dress and how very 21st century of him to introduce a hard-working piece which could work as a skirt or as a top. All of these innovations focus on an inherent elegance showcased by enveloping the wearer in voluminous fabric without restricting the figure. Designs that would look beautiful irrespective of the wearer’s body type.
If one were literal like me, one could clearly see the shapes in his designs. A circle in the form of the bubble dress made of green gazar silk, a square in the form of the black sack dress, a triangle in the form of the envelope dress.
However, the most interesting part of the exhibit are the construction techniques. They feel as though we are being made privy to secrets of a cult.
Take this coat. The delicious secret behind this coat is a ribbon which holds the fabric together to form the gathers.
This video reveals an incredibly satisfying construction of a minimalist ensemble from 2 pieces of fabric.
The fun does not end there, we are also invited to recreate a deceptively simple T coat from paper. Cut, fold, crease and make a coat
If one looks closely, one can find that the shapes that Balenciaga was experimenting with have crept so much into fashion’s psyche that it is almost impossible to find a design house not influenced by it. The exhibit also highlighted his impact on both avantgarde as well as mainstream spaces in showcasing designs by the likes of Rei Kawakubo, Delpozo, Gareth Pugh, Molly Goddard, Hussein Chalayan and lots more.
It would be difficult to find a western woman’s wardrobe devoid of Balenciaga’s influence and that is a good thing, because he was definitely onto concepts that are so relevant today such as diversity of shape, appreciating the female form while giving it the freedom to move, to express herself.
A longtime client offered a fitting epitaph: “Women did not have to be perfect or even beautiful to wear his clothes. His clothes made them beautiful.” (quote credit:Met)
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