The colour black is the central thread running through this exhibition dedicated to the work of Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972), titled Balenciaga, L’œuvre au noir (“Balenciaga, working in black”). The exhibition will serve as an unprecedented posthumous collaboration between Balenciaga and sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. “The fabric always has the last word,” as Balenciaga used to say: witness the lace embellishments, intricate embroideries and indulgent silk velvet flourishes that trace the silhouettes and sculpt the body.
The purity of Balenciaga’s “barrel” line will be on display, as will his “sack dress”, both innovations that would contribute to making his name around the world. His pared-down, elegant style can be seen in the understated grace of his models, judged a little too austere by some. Loaned by the Galliera collection and the Balenciaga House archives, the display boasts cocktail dresses adorned with silk taffeta, fringes, satin ribbon and jet pearls, while the designer’s talent and inventiveness are showcased further by the presence of accessories, hats and jewellery.
It was back in 1917 that this self-taught designer, then only 22 years of age, founded his own eponymous fashion house in the Basque city of San Sebastian. He was forced to leave Spain at the time of the Civil War, in 1937, choosing to pursue his career in Paris. By the time the 1940s were coming to an end, his dresses were being worn by film stars including Marlène Dietrich.
The exhibition Balenciaga, L’œuvre au noir at the Bourdelle Museum kicks off the Palais Galliera’s Spanish season, which will continue with Habits aux couleurs de l’Espagne at the Maison Victor Hugo (21 June to 24 September 2017) before concluding back at the Palais Galliera with Mariano Fortuny (7 October 2017 to 7 January 2018).