Coco Chanel called him 'the only couturier in the truest sense of the word', and Christian Dior described him as 'the master of us all'. Revered to this day in the world of bespoke fashion, Cristóbal Balenciaga created fashion that was a force to be reckoned with. His pieces were elegant, dramatic, avant grade – and now they are on show to the public for the final weekend display of Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at the V&A Museum in London.
Born in a small Spanish fishing town in 1895, Balenciaga grew up surrounded by clothes and craft as his mother earned a living as a seamstress. He began a tailoring apprenticeship at the age of 12 and opened his first boutique in 1919. Soon, the Spanish royal family was seen wearing his designs and before long, this young man became renowned for re-cultivating the shape of fashion by embracing the empire waist and cutting coats in silhouettes akin to kimonos.
Think of 'avant-garde fashion' today and it's likely that Rei Kawakubo comes to mind instead of Balenciaga. It's easy to see why comparisons are often drawn between the two designers, as Balenciaga's garments subverted the fashion industry's expectations; turning functional garments into stand-alone works of art. Kawakubo uses fashion in a similar way today; using it as an eraser with which to blur the lines between traditional gendered dress.
Through form and function, Balenciaga created a collection of masterpieces, over 100 of which can be seen at the V&A until this Sunday 18 February. This exhibition sets out to reveal why exactly he came to be known, simply, as 'the king'. If you're curious to see for yourself, we highly recommend making the trip to take in this collection while it still stands.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, until Sunday 18 February 2018
V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL