A night at the museum to witness a fashion show and a contemporary take on Cristóbal Balenciaga in the golden era of haute couture. Waiting in line to see models in Central Saint Martin’s fashion students’ designs inspired by the Spanish master of haute couture in the 20th century parading gracefully in the halls, ending up posing in the magnificent Raphael gallery.
The Raphael gallery seemed to be the ideal place for the final static presentation, as the sense of history and legacy in the room echoed the artisanal approach of the couture house founded by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Balenciaga may well be considered an artist due to his persistent pursuit of the simplicity of the silhouette. His perfect cut, together with his choice of the right material, bring his artistic vision of the solid and sometimes geometrical volume to life. The silhouette of the garment is sometimes complemented by decorative details like his signature ruffles and embellishments.
The fashion show at the V&A Museum on Friday 24th March was an ode to Cristóbal Balenciaga. It was an educational project of CSM BA Fashion in collaboration with Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum. Students were introduced to the archive of the couture house, and by tracing the origin of couture and embracing traditions and folk culture, created new fashion designs. It was a creative process that travelled back in time.
Cristóbal Balenciaga himself was very much inspired by Spanish folk culture and court tradition. Born in a fishing village in Spain, he was deeply influenced by his Spanish roots and looked to local surroundings for inspiration. Generating ideas for fashion design from Catholic tradition such as the church and the nuns’ robes, from Spanish art such like Velásquez’s and Goya’s court portraits, from the ruffle and frills of flamenco dancers’ costumes, and even from the blouses and boots of the fishermen in his hometown, as Diana Vreeland once commented, “Balenciaga brought the style of Spain into the lives of everyone who wore his designs… he remained forever a Spaniard.”
With respect to traditions, Balenciaga kept on experimenting with structure and form, creating pieces both avant-garde and elegant at the same time. And so did the CSM students that undertook this task. Their contemporary translations evoked the spirit of Balenciaga in terms of cut, construction, and embellishments, like Alaqyane McDonald’s gown that paid tribute to Balenciaga’s signature train and embellishments, and Katie Paul’s combination of the classic and surreal. Some were highly relevant also because creators drew inspiration from current trends. Zoe Zoberski, for example, was interested in global immigration and its impact on cultural integration.
The couture house of Balenciaga was closed in 1968, in a time when ready-to-wear became much more popular than haute couture. And yet Balenciaga’s legacy remained treasured and studied over time. With anxieties about over-consumerism leading to a call for quality, uniqueness, and craftsmanship, what to expect next for the fashion world will be something worthy of observing.
Words: Yi Tang
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