The Fashion Legacy of Balenciaga

START body

Contexts is the title—and captivating subject—of the latest exhibit at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, Spain, the birthplace of the iconic couturier. In this new installment of the museum’s Fashion and Heritage series, which kicked off last year, Balenciaga’s private intricacies are seen alongside the public arenas of fashion and museums. Contexts compares and contrasts these worlds and examines the cultural references they provide. In an expansive, six-room gallery, more than 80 Balenciaga pieces are featured, spanning the house’s history and evolution, and highlighting many never-before-shown designs.

The concept of „heritage“ is closely tied to Balenciaga’s creations. The couturier’s personal life and the creative influences that surrounded him all factored into developing the fashion house. Less-known—but equally important—are the private spaces “behind-the-curtain,” where atelier and archival work quietly informs central concepts, techniques, and aesthetics. CR spoke with the museum’s exhibition curator, Judith Clark, and collection director, Igor Uria, about the nuances behind the designer’s couture approach, the public and private aspects of the house’s identity, and Balenciaga’s reigning influence in contemporary fashion.

How does Contexts extend the ideas of the Fashion and Heritage program at the Balenciaga Museum?
Uria: „Fashion and Heritage becomes a curatorial series, a work-in-progress starting with Conversations and continuing with Contexts, with the possibility of another edition in the future. Contexts looks at the hows and the whys, placing the works in the time of their two lives: life as a haute couture garment meant for wearing, and as a museum object. Contexts incorporates wider audiences, connected to social, cultural, and historical environments, and even communications, where the media played a very important judicial and extrajudicial role.“

How would you define the markers of Balenciaga’s creative foundation as a designer?
Uria: „Cristóbal Balenciaga, a master of haute couture for his philosophy of work and execution, must also be understood as an artist. Starting with concepts obtained through research since his beginnings, he forged an aesthetic ideal. With constant work, he gradually polished his style, making small changes revealed in the previews of each collection.

The first collections he presented in Paris enjoyed incredible success. Specifically, in August 1937, the ‘balloon’-shaped, lace evening gown later transformed to become an iconic taffeta balloon dress in August 1950. The design continued to evolve, becoming the silhouette of several ‘balloons’ in gazar fabric in August 1961. We can see in the same aesthetic idea and following the innovation of materials, how this design and silhouette developed.“

Which aspects of Balenciaga’s heritage most informed his vision and creation of couture?
Clark: „‚Heritage‘ literally means ‚original origins.‘ The museum’s geography is central to Balenciaga because this is his birthplace and it situates him at his beginnings. From here, his heritage became many things later on in Madrid and Paris. Through Balenciaga’s initial history, we see the start of his evolution. This was the root of all that came afterward for him as a designer.“

In what ways did Balenciaga’s design perspective evolve throughout his career?
Uria: „The early ’40s were considered to be a key moment. In this time, we can already see signs of little references to what may be the ‘cocoon’ and ‘the sac.’ The 1951 collection is a turning point—models that would lead to future revolutions well into the ’50s were presented in this collection. The ‘midi’ evolved towards the ‘tunic’ and the ‘sailor’ towards the ‘sac.’ In both cases a third element, the ‘air’ surrounded the female body, providing support for the exterior silhouette.“

How would you define the relationship between couture as fashion versus couture as a museum object?
Clark: „Museum spaces are not the same type of environments as catwalks or fashion shows. They tell a slightly different story of couture objects. Fashion is often about desirability and consumption; museums are interested in viewing and understanding. Museums recover fragments and references to the past, but they are also very much a part of the present and our contemporary, shifting conversations.“

How was the exhibit constructed to echo the design of the garments shown?
Clark: „An important part of the exhibition staging is centered around the curtains from Balenciaga’s atelier. In response to his love of draping and materiality, this theme is present throughout the spatial design. There are other elements from the archives and detailed reproductions of hallmarks from Balenciaga’s shop, such as the moldings and columns of his atelier, and the famous sun clock he was photographed under many times, to give accuracy and authenticity to the environment.“

Why is important to bring to light the private spheres of fashion for better collective understanding?
Clark: „It is important to understand the relationship around the process and the type of person he was designing for, who was not always a typical model size and body type. There are private and personal aspects to his inspirations, and of course, the passing down of his skills as a couturier. So much of the work goes on behind the scenes.“

What is the contemporary understanding of the Balenciaga identity and its influence as a fashion house?
Clark: „We often think of collections as fixed entities, but how we see them and our understandings expand over time. There is a multitude of references and voices that create context. These very explicitly build upon themselves. Even through this show, we uncovered affinities and where those were and weren’t present along Balenciaga’s journey as a designer. It is incredible how much you can continue to learn, and how much is behind each garment’s creation and evolution. Contexts presents its ideas and invites audiences to look and make their own determinations of the exhibit. That way they can bring their references and histories to their personal understandings.“

Uria: „I consider the house to be very faithful to the legacy and values of Balenciaga, without ever forgetting the revolutions he may have discreetly deployed from ‘behind-the-curtain.’ In all of the collections, we can appreciate the legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga.“

Contexts is on view at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum from March 1, 2019 – January 12, 2020.

prev link:
createdAt:Tue, 05 Mar 2019 18:55:31 +0000
displayType:Long Form Article