"Balenciaga and Spain" Brings Life to Historic Fashion
A look at the Balenciaga exhibit in the De Young
In the fashion world, the name "Balenciaga" is one of inspiration, creativity, and genius that radically altered many aspects of what is now couture. From groundbreaking silhouettes to subtle elegance, Balenciaga was a Spanish couturier who is now renowned for his incredible work.
The de Young Museum in San Francisco, California hosted an exhibit dedicated to the designer, showcasing many of his infamous gowns and creations. Crowds of people attended and experienced the elegance and genius that is Balenciaga. Several rooms filled with awe inspiring works like none other held a simplistic and well put together ambiance, ranging from simple black rooms with dim but vibrant lighting in the background to themed stages representing Balenciaga's inspirations.
The exhibit opened with a beautiful coral gown and then presented a series of all black designs including both evening dresses and more reserved business wear and women's suits. Though all in black, the women were not dull, but instead, striking. The color became bold when put into the creative and skilled hands of Balenciaga, whose artistic and elegant craftsmanship draws your eyes not only to his unique designs but also to the quality of the garment itself. Each article of clothing had an elegance that was both over-the-top and understated.
Themes included a healthy dose of lace and layers as well as skilled draping around the body to create a flow of fabric. Helpful signs explained what the theme of both the room and creations were, as well as details about Balenciaga's childhood that contributed to the theme of his work.
While the mannequins were basic, lacking hair or accessories, the hands were expressive and poised, later tied into Balenciaga's intrigue with Andalusian dance and flamenco.
After the encompassing magnificence of the initial set of dresses, the viewer is fed into another small room housing the couterier's more progressive gowns with revolutionary silhouettes. It was made notable that Balenciaga had no fear of breaking the mold, particularly of setting a dress shape to be heavier on top. These dresses possessed less details, focusing more on the shape, and were cut of fabric of deep and rich hues. The display for these was simplistic as well, to allow the full attention to be directed to the construction of the garments, such as the famous "I" silhouette.
The audience is then led into a large room filled with multiple different displays, and this room is suddenly extravagant and colorful, with several different themed collections setup with their corresponding inspirations. Rather than dim lighting, minimalist displays and creations, an overwhelming arena of sequins, bows, lace, pleats, music and color greet the general public.
A platform with richly colored garments with creative and original hemlines is accompanied by light flamenco music and a background that has the essence of Spain, Balenciaga's country of origin. Each of these mannequins is posed in positions reminiscent of Andalusian and flamenco dancers. One of the standout gowns was that which appeared to "open up" in the front and reveal layers of ruffles beneath. A special corner of this theme was devoted to bull fighting, with exquisite jackets and a symbolic carnation dress, representing Spain's national flower as well as what is thrown at the bull fight.
Several other collections dominate the floor, such as a display recounting the influence of the Catholic church on Balenciaga, best demonstrated by intriguing hats; a display honoring his invention of the "bubble skirt" still present in modern day fashion and reminding us of his everlasting impression on the fashion world; and a display with a theme of royalty that houses regal gowns, including an odd gown resembling a skunk. certain gowns such as this draw the viewer's attention to the fact that Balenciaga was not afraid of going over-the-top, exemplified by a dress absolutely covered in bows and yet he was also able to pull back for a simple chic look as shown in his creation of an elegant gown with one simple bow on the back. He is a master of statements, understated or extreme.
Several special pieces are shown in the center of the commotion in glass cases, allowing for a 360 vision. These seem to be reserved for his more extreme and well known pieces, such as a black silk crepe gown with a large and impressional chou chou, or a red and black polka dot creation inspired by flamenco. Each creation was crafted with the great quality and though created many years ago, still can be traced to modern fashion and still emit a desire from viewers to one day wear a garment as classy and creative as them. One could wander the exhibit for hours, and still have many details left to note and take in.
The exhibit was well put together and a welcome reminder of Balenciaga's genius and influence as well as a reminder of the inspiring effect that couture as on the world. I would highly recommend the exhibit, not just as one of exquisite craftsmanship, creative genius, and simple beauty but also as a historic landmark represented in gorgeous gowns.
With only five days left in this beautiful city, I'm treasuring every moment and excited to see what the last few days hold.
May the Prada be with you