Black on black in paris
An exhibition on Balenciaga's dark creations
It's 100 years since Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his fashion house. The first of several exhibitions in 2017 celebrating the event opens in Paris with a look at his black creations. Balenciaga pursued his own idea of beauty, crafting pieces that traverse time, and changed the whole conception of clothing, the curator told K magazine.
From 8 March, all fashionable eyes in the French capital will be on designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (1865-1972), thanks to the Palais Galliera, Paris' fashion museum exhibition, L'oeuvre au noir, which is hosted by the Musée Bourdelle.
Featuring more than 100 designs taken from Galliera’s own archives and from the house of Balenciaga, there are also hand-made drawings by the man himself, and other archival documentation. Iconic hats and necklaces complement the show.
The show is part of Galliera’s Spanish season. This will include the exhibition Habits aux couleurs de l’Espagne (Clothes in Spanish Tones) at Victor Hugo's house, from 21 June to 24 September, and Mariano Fortuny at the Palais Galliera, 7 October 2017 - 7 January 2018.
“L’Oeuvre au Noir was inspired by a visit to Madrid's Museo del Traje (Costume Museum) by Olivier Saillard [director of the Palais Galliera],” says Veronique Belloir, who is haute couture curator at Galliera and the exhibition's curator. “Rediscovering the rich role of black in traditional costumes on the trip, Saillard realised how important black is in Spanish culture. So the idea to present Balenciaga through the prism of black came about naturally.”
Indeed, one might call it a study on black. As a release explains, 'Black motivated Balenciaga. The backbone of his work was inspired by the folklore and traditions of his Spanish childhood. Black was this exceptionally skilled tailor's preference. Black was a monastic influence on the master, about whom Dior once said: “Clothes were his religion.”
Back to black
Balenciaga's black might at different times look vibrant, opaque, transparent, matt or shiny. “Part of that has to do with his exceptional craftsmanship,” Belloir says.
“For this exhibition,” she adds, “we scrutinised the garments with – a first for the atelier – the aid of a dress designer to better understand the structure and the attention paid to each piece: the cut, ironing, assembly, finishing touches, lining. To re-examine Balenciaga's work, without being distracted by the colour, allowed us to look at the essentials but also to enter into the subtleties of materials and their implementation”.
The house of Balenciaga helped “enormously and generously opened their archives,” Belloir tells K. "Certain emblematic pieces were specially restored for the exhibition, such as the 'cone' dress in organza, just held together by embroidered straps. Our role is to both preserve and pay respect to this history for future generations."
And this history is being put on show in specially designed cabinets created by Saillard, and juxtaposed with the museum’s sculptures. The proportions of some of them were inspired by the imagined measures taken by fashion and portrait photographer Irving Penn.
But what distinguishes Balenciaga as a designer for Belloir? “Gabrielle [Coco] Chanel said of him, 'Only he is capable of cutting a fabric, to assemble it, to sew it by hand; the others are mere designers.' It's this perfect knowledge of cutting and the tailor's metier that allowed him to concentrate on the structure and the lines of a garment to an extreme degree, like an architect. He could therefore deconstruct forms and, by adding unexpected volumes, create a new silhouette far from the easy and conventional effects of simply realising the 'pretty' feminine form. He pursued his own idea of beauty.”
“The Balenciaga garment seemed independent of the body which it clothed, giving it an ease and freedom of movement and above all a previously unseen style. Several pieces traversed time, and could be perfectly worn today, particularly those which he created in black.”
Black motivated Balenciaga. The backbone of his work was inspired by the folklore and traditions of his Spanish childhood.
In what way did he shape fashion? “His creations didn't try to flatter the body; they are demanding,” points out Belloir, “They release something austere and majestic at the same time. When you put certain dresses on a mannequin, the silhouette is re-drawn; the fabric settles in place; takes form and straight away gives an incomparable line.”
Dedicating exhibitions of this type to great creators – Madame Gres, Madeleine Vionnet, Balenciaga – lets us see that, according to Belloir. “It sheds light on their work which in their time was shocking, like Chanel's little black dress. In different ways, each had their own personal universe and they pushed their research very far, until they reached the extreme simplification of its forms. They even changed the conception of clothing. Our role is to highlight this work and to transmit the know-how to the public conscience.
Balenciaga, 'L'oeuvre au noir', until 16 July