By the late 1930s, celebrated couturier and fashion visionary Cristobal Balenciaga had achieved huge international fame and success for his dresses.
So sought after were his new designs that in 1956, fearing they may be leaked to counterfeiters, Balenciaga began barring journalists from his initial showings. A controversial decision, it only added to the Spanish designer’s growing secrecy and mystique. The untouchable Balenciaga fostered an almost deity-like reputation within the industry.
Unlike his contemporaries Dior and Chanel, the designer had a total mastery of every stage of the dressmaking process, from conception and illustration to tailoring, cutting and sewing. His work also introduced hidden sculptural elements never before seen in dress design.
His waist-deleting sack dress was mocked as profoundly unsexy in the hourglass-obsessed late 50s, only to become roaringly popular a decade later.
A highlight of this new V&A exhibition – the first UK exhibition of his work – is a forensic exploration of his garments by x-ray artist Nick Veasey, revealing the complex corsetry, weights and internal hoops that often support Balenciaga’s outwardly simple dresses.
With a focus on his final decades, the exhibition demonstrates the couturier’s highly attuned fashion prescience. His waist-deleting sack dress was mocked as profoundly unsexy in the hourglass-obsessed late 50s, only to become roaringly popular a decade later. Whether you believe he was predicting trends or simply leading them, Balenciaga’s work is as visible on the catwalk today as it was in his journalist-averse salons.