Balenciaga: The Collector
Behind any great designer stand his influences. Behind Cristóbal Balenciaga stands a collection of clothing spanning 300 years. The new exhibition Cristóbal Balenciaga, Collector of Fashion, opening today at Paris’ Musée Galliera, takes a look at the great creator through the lens of his collection.
“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.”
Cristóbal Balenciaga, Collector of Fashion opens today at Galliera’s temporary space Les Docks, 34 quai d’Austerlitz, Paris, 01-76-77-25-30.
Pictured: An exhibition display (top). Pieces from Balenciaga’s collection: Traditional Andalucian men’s ballet costume in wool with silk passementerie, circa 1850-1900; wool, silk, and tulle cape, circa 1895 (middle). Pieces from Balenciaga Haute Couture collections: Evening look from Spring 1947; Evening look from Fall 1951 (bottom).