I had the chance to see the Balenciaga exhibition “Shaping Fashion” at V&A again. This time is was less crowded and I think if you have the chance to see a exhibition you like twice, you should do it. The second time you see completely other things and you can reflect in another way.
Cristóbal Balenciaga was for me a great designer. Innovative and bold and how he enabled to manipulate the relationship between his clothing and women’s bodies. He totally transformed the silhouette, broadening the shoulders and removing the waist. His manipulation of the waist, in particular, contributed to “what is considered to be his most important contribution to the world of fashion: a new silhouette for women.”
Balenciaga was also an innovator in his use of fabrics: he tended toward heavy fabrics, intricate embroidery and bold materials.
He also took risks and succeeded, overcoming the obstacles of the political and economic circumstances he occasionally faced.
Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his fashion house in 1968 and died in 1972. (“There is no one left for me to dress,” he said at the time) The house lay dormant until 1986.
In 1986, Jacques Bogart S.A. acquired the rights to Balenciaga. The first collection was designed by Michel Goma.
Since 2015 Demna Gvasalia is the new Creative Director for the brand. On the surface Cristóbal Balenciaga and Demna Gvasalia couldn’t be more different. Demna´s work for Balenciaga may seem to be worlds away. But the two designers have more in common than one may think.
First and foremost, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Demna Gvasalia are both disruptors of the fashion system. On one level, Balenciaga defied the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to show his collections a month later than his peers, forcing buyers and journalists from New York to trudge back across the Atlantic, which they willingly did. But as a result, the renegades got exclusive coverage in every style column. This is much like Gvasalia, whose decision to show his label Vetements on the couture calendar has resulted in considerable media attention along with operational advantages. Gvasalia also keeps a cap on international stockists and what each can order to reduce the number of items that end up in clearance sales, making sure that that his own brand remains exclusive enough for customers to return. Similarly, Cristóbal Balenciaga kept a tight lid on the number of clients he would serve, many of whom were turned away upon initial interest. Even loyal clients would be required to order a minimum of two items, which helped to create a mysterious aura around the house and justify high prices.
Demna Gvasalia’s experimentation with shape and proportion, for which he often finds inspiration in the brand’s archive. There’s a synergy between the way they both look at things in 360. They do a lot through cutting instead of styling, and the pieces which Demna has produced that sit off the shoulder are actually cut that way to look as though it’s been styled that way. It’s very sculptural. It’s also very Cristóbal.
What Balenciaga did for his time was so extraordinary and what Demna is doing for his time is taking some of those ideas and extending them to a contemporary context. Would Cristóbal approve of Gvasalia’s witty take on his legacy? I would say yes.
As Cristóbal once said “I regret not being younger, because then I could create the amusing but tasteful ready-to-wear the times we live in demand. For me it’s too late.”