The balloon, the sack, the cocoon or the baby-doll. Any dress or coat that isn’t body-con or New Look inspired has its core in the designs of Cristóbal Balenciaga. And that is exactly what the Victoria & Albert has focused on for their latest  exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. The importance of superb craftsmanship and tailoring, translated into an indefinite play of textiles and structures, Balenciaga’s 20th century clothes seem more modern than any form of contemporary haute couture. With over 100 items – including garments, millinery and footwear – the show curated by the V&A’s 20th and 21st century fashion expert Cassie Davies-Strodder is focusing on the immense impact of the Spanish designer’s work on everyone from Paco Rabanne and Oscar de la Renta to Molly Goddard and Erdem.

Balenciaga Shaping Fashion Exhibition View (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

“Even though his name isn’t as recognisable as those of Chanel and Dior, Balenciaga’s influence is still going strong,” said Davies-Strodder.The V&A fashion gallery is divided into three individual parts: the first one focusing on the making of the dress, the second looking into the couture customer experience inside Balenciaga’s stores and fashion shows (including dresses made for Ava Gardner and countess Mona Bismarck) while the third celebrates the direct influence his work has had on other designers. These themes of influence include minimalism, shape, craftsmanship, innovative materials and innovative pattern-cutting, positioning a 1987 tiered grass-green Sybilla dress just a staircase away from Balenciaga’s 1961 original idea. It’s a case of fashion memory game between the two floors!

Balenciaga Shaping Fashion Exhibition View (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In addition to the clothes and the millinery (contemporary replicas of which are available from the museum shop), Balenciaga’s work is explored through a variety of other mediums. X-rays of dresses created by artist Nick Veasey show the incredible construction while London College of Fashion’s pattern-making students recreate the pieces in calico in order to allow the visitor to take a closer look. There are also videos capturing the couture processes behind the tailored suits and the Lesage embroidery, original sketches, patterns, photographs and catwalk video footage. After tomorrow, London and its visitors will finally get to look into a unique mind of fashion experimentation, one that never compromised on the beauty of the finished product – that perfect shaped dress.

The tickets for Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion are currently on sale at vam.ac.uk/balenciaga. The exhibition opens at the Victoria & Albert Museum tomorrow (27 May) and goes until 18 February 2018.

Text by Dino Bonacic, Images courtesy of the V&A

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