Irving Penn photographed Veruschka in Balenciaga for Vogue, 1967. (CNP Archives)
The legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga in undeniable. Vogue summed it up best in 1962: “Almost since the first day he launched his salon in 1937, he has been acclaimed as the great leader in fashion; what Balenciaga does today, other designers will do tomorrow, or next year, by which time he will have moved on again.”
“His pieces are fundamental in the history of Balenciaga, but also in the history of fashion—they are key markers, which is why Vogue featured them at that time,” says Demna Gvasalia of the 1967 Irving Penn image of Veruschka cocooned in a majestic black silk taffeta chou (cabbage). Opening tomorrow, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s retrospective, “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion,” showcases the exquisite similarities—and the brilliant evolution—of the great man and his fashion house’s new creative genius, Gvasalia, along with a diverse set of contemporary names exhibited as well. Staged across two levels of the London museum, the exhibition’s lower floor focuses on his background, workrooms, and construction techniques, while the upper one looks at his legacy thematically, starting with a 1951 Cristóbal Balenciaga wool skirt suit, displayed alongside a Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga suit from his Fall 2016 collection.
“I always look at Cristóbal Balenciaga for inspiration. I’ve been through every book in the [Central] Saint Martins library a hundred times; it’s always my first point of research,” Molly Goddard told Vogue, showing that his influence moves seamlessly from clothes for the directional executive (that Gvasalia-designed Fall ’16 suit) to the prettiest of party frocks. (A trapeze-shaped blue tulle confection from Goddard’s first collection will be on display. ) “I love seeing how the body is highlighted and accentuated using volume rather than body-conscious silhouettes,” she added.
The meticulous eye of Erdem Moralioglu—as showcased in his intricate plays on lace and boundary-pushing embroideries—has also been informed by Balenciaga. At Céline, meanwhile, Phoebe Philo shares Cristóbal’s pursuit of perfection, along with his pared-back, less-is-more mastery. The Philo-designed, Basque-inspired column Tilda Swinton wore to the 2012 BAFTA Awards is included in “Shaping Fashion.”
High drama or sophisticated minimalism, the Spanish master’s legacy is profound and plays on, feeling innovative and relevant to the now. Contemporary designers, including Gvasalia, spoke to Vogue about his lasting influence.
“Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” runs from May 27, 2017, to February 18, 2018.
Gareth Pugh Fall 2013
“With Balenciaga the most beautiful things that were produced were the things that were the most simple and sublime.”—Gareth Pugh
Erdem Fall 2015
“His vision was so modern. There is a beautiful oddness and femininity to his clothes, which is timeless.”—Erdem Moralioglu
Simone Rocha Spring 2013
“Balenciaga’s work was so true to modernity and femininity, innovative and inviting. His work is always inspiring. It’s about playing with the fabrics, which is how I always start.”—Simone Rocha
Delpozo Spring 2016
“For me, he was the master of volume. I don’t think there’s anyone else who has influenced me in such a manner.”—Josep Font
J.W.Anderson Fall 2013
Rick Owens Spring 2014
Comme des Garçons Fall 2016