Long Live The King
Among the designers of the twentieth century, Cristobal Balenciaga is just about peerless. His friend Coco Chanel called him “the only couturier”; when he passed away in 1972, at the age of 77, Women’s Wear Daily declared, “The king is dead.”
His work and legacy are now the subject of a new show at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute in New York. (The Queen herself, as well as Oscar de la Renta, who conceived the exhibition, will even be on hand tonight to toast it.) Curated by Hamish Bowles, Balenciaga: Spanish Master plays up not only the master’s Parisian chic but also the influence of his native Spain, with references to bull fighters, the Basque, and the Catholic Church appearing throughout his work. (Given the circumstances, you might be inclined to forgive the light flamenco music playing in the background.) Balenciaga fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War, but the inspiration he drew from it remained with him for the rest of his life.
The show includes more than 70 dresses and accessories, sourced all over the world, from the Balenciaga archives in Paris to private owners to academic collections. Beginning in the thirties—a dramatic silk Infanta evening dress from 1939 is a standout—the show moves through the sixties, the height of his technical mastery, evident in a simple black silk crepe dress and gazar Chou head wrap from 1967. It’s a must-see reminder to the house’s legions of contemporary fans that, yes, there was life before the Motorcycle bag.
Balenciaga: Spanish Master runs November 19 to February 19, 2011, at Queen Sofía Spanish Institute, 684 Park Ave., NYC, (212) 628-0420, www.queensofiasi.org.