Hawthorne & Heaney Visits Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion

When a major fashion exhibtion comes to London, we love to go and see what it is all about and the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion Exhibition currently on at the Victoria and Albert Museum does not disappoint. Based in the fashion and textiles section of the museum, the exhibition goes through from the beginnings of Balenciaga as a brand, through to current designers that Balenciaga has influenced.

Starting downstairs, most of the historical garments and accessories are displayed with accompanying notes and toiles. There are a few pieces which have a video animation next to them of how the pattern goes together to make the garment function which are very informative and really demonstrate the complexity of the designs:

#balenciaga @vamuseum #patterncutting

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This accompanies the actual garment which it explains as well as a calico toile of the garment. A few pieces from the collection have been x-rayed as can be seen in the back of the next video which shows the many layers that go into a piece like this and the hidden support within some of the ‘simpler’ looking gowns.

@vamuseum #balenciaga #fashion #london

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X-ray photograph of silk taffeta evening dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1955, Paris, France. X-ray by Nick Veasey, 2016. © Nick Veasey

They have a section which is dedicated to the fabric choices and embroideries used in some of the historical Balenciaga pieces. These include a wonderfully rich example of silk shading on a gown with an impossibly tiny waist and a very decadent textured jacket. The base embroidery of the jacket is demonstrated by an embroiderer from Paris based embroiderers Lesage recreating the design. See below for a snippet of the tambour beading over long silk stitching.

Wild silk evening dress (detail), Cristóbal Balenciaga with embroidery by Lesage, 1960 – 2, Paris, France. Museum no. T.27-1974. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Going through the exhibition, the different approaches to each of the pieces are explained as Cristobal Balenciaga applied both tailoring and dressmaking techniques to his pieces. He was know for his surgical precision, often pictured in a lab coat measuring and remeasuring sections. A selection of traditional tailoring tools are displyed including shears, pressing ham, chalk shaving box and tracing wheel.

Cristóbal Balenciaga at work, 1968, Paris, France. Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum PhotosMoving upstairs, the exhibition focuses more on Balenciagas lasting legacy and those he has inspired. Against the dombed ceiling, three videos of current designers such as Mollie Goddard and Gareth Pugh who speak about how Balenciaga has influenced them and their design work. A series of parallels are drawn between contemporary designs and historical Balenciaga pieces such as the below by Hussein Chalayan and Oscar De La Renta which are likened to textured coat and silk work dress previous mentioned.

This exhibition is a well rounded insight into the Balenciaga brand with lots of lovely couture examples and the technical specification to go with them which is interesting for those with and without exisiting fashion knowledge.  Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion will be running at the Victoria and Albert Museum‘s Fashion and Textiles Gallery Space (Room 40) until Sunday 18th February 2018 so if you have the opportunity to see it, it is worth the visit. Tickets cost £12.00 and some concessions are available.

All images and videos courtsey of Natasha Searls-Punter (@tashasearlspunter) unless otherwise stated.