Dozens of couture gowns designed by Balenciaga were on display at the De Young Museum in San Francisco this Spring. I was lucky that my trip to the Bay Area coincided with the last week of the show. I absolutely love fashion exhibits, and over the years the De Young has presented some really amazing collections of 20th century designer fashion and historical costumes. To say I was excited about seeing this one, entitled Balenciaga and Spain, is something of an understatement!
Balenciaga and Spain examines the profound and enduring influence of Spain on the work of haute couture master Cristóbal Balenciaga. The impact of Spanish culture, history, and traditions is explored through the recurring themes in Balenciaga’s oeuvre and organized in the exhibition in six sections: Spanish Art, Regional Dress, the Spanish Court, Religious Life and Ceremony, the Bullfight, and Dance.
The exhibit was everything I was hoping for. There were over 100 gowns on display, and they were all beautiful. Above is a photo of the first gowns I saw. I was hoping to take some photos of the exhibit and brought along my husband’s DSLR camera as it can shoot in very low light without a flash. Unfortunately photos were not allowed at the exhibit. They wouldn’t even let me take a photo of things on sale in the gift shop! I still managed to grab a quick shot of this tote bag being sold as a souvenir. I thought it was fun.
Balenciaga and Spain, the Book
Sensing my distress over my inability to take photos to remember the exhibit, my mother purchased “Balenciaga and Spain”, the large coffee-table book on sale at the gift shop. It does a wonderful job describing how the traditional costumes, flamenco dance, and art of the designer’s native Spain influenced his designs. Photos of Spanish court paintings are displayed next to vintage black and white photos of the garments. In the photo below, Balenciaga translates the poof skirt and sheer pale fabric of the portrait panting into a gorgeous mid-century ball gown.
The elaborate costumes of Spanish Bull Fighters also influenced Balenciaga’s designs.
Traditional Spanish costume worked it’s way into the designer’s aesthetic as well.
The dress on the left was one of my favorite pieces in the show. In real life the poof skirt was a gorgeous pale champagne color.
Unfortunately the book has only a few photos of the garments as they appeared on display. As fun as the black and white vintage photos are the colors Balenciaga used in his gowns were so rich and beautiful I miss seeing them. If I lived in San Francisco I would have gone back with a set of colored pencils and tried to sketch out the garments.
What do you think of Balenciaga’s designs?