Purity marks Balenciaga retrospective

21st July 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 21, 2006 (AFP) - With the simplicity and austerity of his cut, Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga created dresses of incredible fluidity and grace that were to radically alter the shape of women's fashions.

PARIS, July 21, 2006 (AFP) - With the simplicity and austerity of his cut, Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga created dresses of incredible fluidity and grace that were to radically alter the shape of women's fashions.

Now, some 34 years after his death, France's museum of fashion and textiles has painstakingly pieced together the first ever retrospective of his work, a project first put in motion some 20 years ago, and coupled it with a look at the fashion house's current output under artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière.

Born the son of a fisherman in Guetaria in the Spanish Basque country in 1895, Balenciaga was a self-taught designer who learnt his craft by unpicking dresses he bought from such top French designers as Coco Chanel.

At just 23 he opened his first boutique in San Sebastian, and soon attracted patronage from Spanish high society.

But the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1937 forced him to close his three shops and move to the French capital, which was to launch him on the international scene, and where he stayed until he retired in 1968.

Throughout his career, "Balenciaga worked on the construction of his clothes, moving always towards a greater simplicity and purity of form," said the museum's curator Pamela Golbin.

The austerity of the war years brought new challenges for Balenciaga and set him on a quest to bring his clothes to life.

"Due to the shortage of material, he was forced to try to gain the maximum volume from the meagre means at hand," said Golbin.

He staged his first show at his atelier on the Avenue St George in 1937, with a collection heavily influenced by his Spanish roots, such as beautifully embroidered bolero jackets and his "Infanta" gown inspired by the costumes of young Spanish princesses.

In the postwar years, his fashions became even more streamlined, liberating women from the constraints of the tight-fitting hourglass New Look created by French designer Christian Dior.

In contrast Balenciaga's designs flowed around the body. Through the 1950s, waistlines were dropped and then raised and then dispensed with all together in his sack dress, which despite its name was flattering to all shapes and was widely copied.

Dubbed "The Master" by other designers, Balenciaga took his mastery of cutting and draping to such heights that he was to make flowing, sumptuous gowns out of a single piece of cloth, joined by just one seam.

With the peacock dress in 1958, short at the front with a back stretching down into a train all the movement flowed to the back, said Golbin.

The development of a stiffened silk called gazar gave him even greater freedom of movement seen in items such as his cabbage cape, which enveloped the upper body and neck.

Although he was fascinated by black, he also loved the play of light and colour designing dresses in mustard yellow, or fuschia pink often set off with a contrasting colour.

Polka dots, inherited from his Spanish roots, and abstract flower designs were also a recurrent theme, as were stripes and checks.

Such attention did he pay to detail, that stripes on suits were perfectly aligned, sleeves were cut to fit a check-pattern, and even pockets and buttons were perfectly matched to printed flowery designs.

By now Balenciaga had earned an international reputation, and even though his fashion house was the most expensive in Paris, his clothes were soon being worn by women such as the Duchess of Windsor and Princess Grace of Monaco.

US actress Barbara Hutton fell so in love with one collection that she bought 19 dresses, six suits, three coats and a négligé, while the Countess Mona Bismarck bought more than 200 Balenciaga outfits from 1963 to 1965.

Through the 1960s, his designs became ever more geometric, a dress made out of triangles of cloth held together at the shoulders by jewelled straps, or a fluffy fuschia balloon dress made of three circular layers.

But in 1968 at the age of 73 and with a half century of his craft behind him, Balenciaga closed his Paris boutique and retired to Spain where he lived until his death in 1972. Always a private person, he never gave press interviews, preferring his clothes to speak for themselves.

The exhibition closes with his wedding dress, a pure envelope of white cloth with the back flowing down to make the train.

"Ever seeking for perfection, he had successfully reached absolute purity," said Golbin.

Balenciaga Paris is at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile, 107 rue de Rivioli until January 28, 2007.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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