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Balenciaga — Shaping Fashion, A celebration of shapes

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.

Sack dress, image credit: V&A

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

Looks simple, it isnt

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.

The fluted sleeve printed dress as well as the flamenco inspired dress could be in any woman’s wardrobe today. High street is full of exaggerated sleeves and ruffles with them being a huge trend this season, showcasing how relevant his designs are even today

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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Gateway to Sustainable fashion via Couture

There has been a lot of conversation around the recently concluded couture week in Paris. Since some time now questions have been raised about whether couture has a place in today’s world. To quote Business of Fashion – What season is this exactly? What is on show? Is it couture, demi-couture, resort? Man Repeller questioned if couture had gone too casual with attendees in denims. In fact, denims were presented at the Fall 2017 couture week.

Image credit: @voguemagazine

Maybe couture should not and cannot be boxed into seasons or occasions. Maybe couture is meant to cause confusion and left to the interpretation of the individual – much like art. Because, what is couture if not the highest form of wearable art? In fact, one of the most interesting Dutch couturiers – Viktor & Rolf presented a very literal manifestation of wearable art in their Fall 2015 couture collection.

For me, that collection was asking the question – Should fashion be restricted to the concept of “covering our bodies”? If the answer were yes, then maybe, couture is one place where all the crazy ideas could come together and a place where fashion goes beyond this visceral idea. Couture as a fashion mecca for starting a conversation, making a statement, talking about thoughts, ideas, feelings.

However, fashion is also a business and the genius of a designer is when they take these abstract concepts of couture and distill them into clothes that are available off the rack for us mere mortals to wear. John Galliano gave a fascinating explanation of how Maison Margiela’s highly conceptual artisanal collection is distilled into RTW, all the way down to accessories during the BoF Voices event. I wonder if all houses follow this journey or is it about being specific to a collection and theme and each collection deserves a new theme.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that a piece in your wardrobe was born from an abstract concept amounting to wearable art and that you are now adding to that story with your own interpretation of that piece? It might even encourage us to view our wardrobe as our own personal art collection and hence each piece is curated and has a story and isn’t a disposable item we use to “cover our body”. Each piece is an heirloom, treasured and cherished and passed on to future generations until it cannot be worn any more. If all of us thought about our clothes this way, we probably could solve many issues plaguing fashion today such as mass consumption, human rights, pollution. The incessant chatter about the changes afoot in the fashion industry might amount to this.

Fashion as wearable art entwined with personal stories.

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