Five Pieces of Fashion History You Need to See at Bendigo Art Gallery's New Balenciaga Exhibition
'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' is full of history with more than 100 pieces, photos and artefacts from the influential designer and the designers he influenced.
August 26, 2019
Coming via London's Victoria and Albert Museum, a new exhibition of garments by groundbreaking fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga has made its way to Australia. As well as being one of the most well-known fashion designers of the 20th century, the Basque-born couturier was also one of the most influential in changing and shaping modern fashion and haute couture. He was even once called "the master of us all" by Christian Dior.
Showing exclusively in Victoria's Bendigo Art Gallery, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion features more than 100 iconic pieces from the 50s and 60s as well as works by his protégés and contemporary designers continuing his legacy. It's a must-see if you're interested in not only the craftsmanship of fashion, but the history of it and how it can change societal standards and trends.
Here, we've picked out five pieces you should seek out at the regional exhibition.
DEFINING THE CLASSICS: THE TULIP DRESS
Balenciaga retired unexpectedly in 1968 at age 74. In an interview with The Times in 1971, he's reported to have said: "When I was a young man I was told by a specialist that I could never pursue my chosen métier of couturier because I was far too delicate. Nobody knows what a tough métier it is, how gruelling the work is. Underneath all this luxury and glamour, the truth is, it's a dog's life!"
This dress shows Balenciaga at the height of his craft. Playing with gravity and weightlessness, the tulip dress is one of the classic pieces of the collection. It also shows to using texture, light, structure and form to create the striking silhouettes for which the couturier is known.
MAKING FASHION PRACTICAL: AN X-RAY OF A DRESS
The meticulous structural work undertaken for garments like those made by Balenciaga again highlights the work involved to produce his gowns. Balenciaga worked carefully to reduce the number of fastenings so women could dress easily and without assistance, making his gowns both beautiful and comfortable to wear. As Bendigo Art Gallery Curator Jessica Bridgfoot puts it, "the garment did the work for you."
New forensic investigations reveal the couturier's hidden workings and processes. This includes a series of x-ray images by British photographer Nick Veasey. Veasey's x-ray photographs are presented in the exhibition alongside works made during a digital pattern making project with the London College of Fashion.
DITCHING THE WAISTLINE: THE COAT
Balenciaga is credited as the designer who took women's fashion beyond an obsession with a tiny waistline. His sculptural contributions to fashion include the sack dress, babydoll and shirt-dress which all remain staples today. This influence can be seen in the work of contemporary designers like Comme des Garçons and Hussein Chalayan.
Here, model Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn sits for photographer Irving Penn in a Balenciaga coat. Irvin Penn was Balenciaga's favoured photographer, and one of the only people the famously private designer allowed in to his workrooms and studios to document his collections.
STICKING TO STRUCTURE AND TEXTURE: DOVIMA IN PARIS
When Richard Avedon photographed Dovima in Paris in 1955, she was one of the world's most famous models. This photograph shows her in a cloche and suit by Balenciaga. Striking contrasts in colour and texture are complemented by the couturier's hallmark minimalist shapes, fastidious attention to colour, and structured outlines – the aesthetic that made him one of the most influential designers on modern fashion.
A FASHION LEGACY: GHESQUIÈRE'S GREY CAPE
An important part of the show examines the legacy that Balenciaga made on fashion — both in his own house and others. Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion includes works by other designers who worked to carry the Balenciaga label forward after its founder's retirement, including Nicolas Ghesquière. Ghesquière designed the grey cape — which was features in Vogue in 2006 — and was known for pairing voluminous, billowing shapes with tightly cut suits and pants. He is now creative director of the house of Louis Vuitton — so you may notice some similarities in the two labels' pieces.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is exclusive to Bendigo Art Gallery in Australia, and runs until November 10, 2019. Bendigo is a two-hour drive from Melbourne.
Top image: Imagine Pictures.
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