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Review: Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion @ V&A

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‘A woman has no need to be perfect or even beautiful to wear my dresses. The dress will do all that for her.’ - Cristóbal Balenciaga

Leaving a lasting legacy on the practice of fashion design, Balenciaga was a revolutionary designer. ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ at the V&A is an interactive and visually-exciting exhibition, exploring the influence of Balenciaga’s designs on modern fashion.

Alberta Tiburzi in ‘envelope’ dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Harper’s Bazaar, June 1967, © Hiro 1967

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In the first ever UK exhibition about Balenciaga’s work and legacy, the V&A presents his garments alongside informative photographs and videos to show the designs from multiple viewpoints and in varied contexts.

With displays dedicated to Balenciaga’s ‘Workrooms’, his ‘Front of House’ and the 'Balenciaga Legacy', the exhibition's thematic arrangement is easy to navigate and its central message is clear: Balenciaga was in his lifetime, and is still today, an instrumental figure in the development of fashion design and dressmaking.

With the help of pattern cutting students from the London College of Fashion, UAL, the V&A presents digitised and animated versions of the patterns from some of Balenciaga’s most iconic garments in the museum’s collection.

The patterns showed that Balenciaga often created the main bodies of dresses using only one piece of fabric. Videos demonstrating this complex design technique are displayed alongside some of the garments in the exhibition.

Skirt suit, wool and silk, Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga, Paris, Autumn Winter 2016 ready-to-wear, look 1, © Catwalking

Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Not only are the garments in the exhibition sitting still and looking pretty on mannequins, but they are brought to life, displayed on rotating stands and displayed alongside videos and fascinating x-rays images.

The x-ray images were created with artist Nick Veasey, intended to show the multi-layered structural designs of Balenciaga’s garments. Beneath the clothes’ surfaces, dress weights and boning in the dress bodices can be seen to carefully manipulate the way that the garments surround the body in ingenious, almost gravity-defying shapes.

In ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’, over 100 garments and 20 hats are displayed as complex and highly influential pieces that have contributed to significant shifts in the practice of fashion design. The V&A presents a brilliant exhibition, showing the beauty and agency of the designer's work; Balenciaga's garments are seen to inspire minds, redefine silhouettes and shape the future of fashion.

‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ is open at the V&A, London until 18 February 2018. For more information about the exhibition and to buy tickets, visit the V&A's website here.

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