Fashion, Museum Exhibitions

Couturier as Collector: Paris Exhibition Shows Cristóbal BALENCIAGA’s Period Costume Collection

We have never before done a fashion-related posting on elliottingotham, but I could not pass up the opportunity to mark the opening of the Paris exhibition of the archives of Cristóbal Balenciaga, a designer whose work has always fascinated me.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel praised Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) as ”the only true couturier among us” and Christian Dior referred to him as “the master of us all.” Now 40 years after his death, the master’s personal archives will go on public display for the first time at Paris’ Musée Galliera, featuring documents, costumes, fabric fragments and even doll’s clothes that were bequeathed to the museum in 1979.

“The items from Cristóbal Balenciaga may be seen as poetic inventory covering three centuries, from the seventeenth to the beginning of the twentieth, and basically two countries, Spain and France,” says Galliera director Olivier Saillard, who curated the show. “The oldest pieces are certainly a pair of French bead-embroidered shoes from 1730, the latest clothes the Spanish folkloric ornaments from the 1910’s. It is a mix of Parisian fashion and Spanish traditional garments or sometimes unusual objects like head ornaments for donkeys.” It’s as notable for what it doesn’t include as for what it does: in this grouping, no pieces from the famous couturiers who were Balenciaga’s contemporaries and predecessors, but “less important labels, nowadays forgotten though interesting to his eyes.”

The exhibit juxtaposes more than 70 costumes and pieces of clothing with Balenciaga haute couture from 1937 to 1968, some from the museum’s own collection, some on loan from Maison Balenciaga, which is supporting the show along with its parent company PPR. The comparison, says Saillard, is illuminating. “The themes in his collection are quite constitutive of his style,” the curator explains. “Black color, especially for lace and embroidery; the shapes of the nineteenth-century garments; historicism in general; the extremely vigorous creativity of Spanish folk art in terms of shapes and colors. [It is] a sort of miscellaneous jigsaw on which he built his modernity.”

“This exhibition may be an invitation to discover, or more precisely imagine, how a fashion designer might build a collection,” he goes on. “Perhaps [it’s] evidence a couture collection doesn’t come out of nowhere, that the own culture and history of a creator is always present in his work.”  [StyleFile Blog]

Cristóbal Balenciaga, ca. 1927

Scene from the Exhibition

Scene from the Exhibition

Scene from the Exhibition

Private collection of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Vestment

Cristóbal Balenciaga, Teal Cape

Balenciaga, Bolero and skirt set, 1943, Cognac velvet embroidered with a black cord tassels

Private collection of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Man’s bolero, Spain, second half of the nineteenth century, Cognac velvet embroidered with black cord

Private collection of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Suit jacket for traditional male ballet dancer, Andalusian, second half of the nineteenth century

Private collection of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Antique Black Cape,ca. 1895

Balenciaga’s favorite model, Colette, in a suit from 1950

Balenciaga, White bowknot satin sleeves on a two-piece black wool dress, 1953.

Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1955, Evening floral dress

A Balenciaga design from 1951.

Left: Evening look from Balenciaga’s Spring 1947 Haute Couture Collection; Right: Evening look from Balenciaga’s Fall 1951 Haute Couture Collection

Balenciaga, Evening ensemble No. 67, robe and scarf, 1949

Balenciaga, Cocktail hat of ivory silk satin, 1953. Originally published in Vogue, October 15, 1953. Photo: John Rawlings.

Balenciaga, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Published in Harper’s Bazaar, March 1953

Balenciaga, 1955, Dovima with Sacha Cloche, Photograph by Richard Avedon (Café des Deux Magots, Paris. Aug 1955)

Marlene Dietrich wearing Balenciaga, Summer Collection 1962

Balenciaga, Jayne Wrightsman in a pink ostrich-plume gown, 1966

Balenciaga, Countess Mona von Bismarck, Hotel Lambert, Summer 1968

Balenciaga, Chartreuse organza “smothers of ruffles”, Helmut Newton photograph from Vogue, 1968.

Cristobal Balenciaga, 1967, Black evening ensemble with “chou” wrap of silk gazar, and evening dress of black silk crepe, inspired by the Francisco de Goya painting “La Duquesa de Alba.”

Cristóbal Balenciaga, Collector of Fashion, Galliera’s temporary space, Opens today through October 7,  Les Docks, 34 quai d’Austerlitz, Paris, 01-76-77-25-30.



One thought on “Couturier as Collector: Paris Exhibition Shows Cristóbal BALENCIAGA’s Period Costume Collection

  1. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing. I have always loved the art in fashion.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog…Sherry

    Posted by Sherry K. | April 17, 2012, 7:53 am

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