Balenciaga and Spain: The Exhibit and the Book

A rose hat from Balenciaga and Spain

Balenciaga and Spain, the Exhibit PosterDozens 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!

The Exhibit

One of the gowns on display at the exhibit "Balenciaga and Spain".

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.

The tote bag on sale at the exhibit "Balenciaga and Spain"

Balenciaga and Spain, the Book

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.

Photo of a poof dress in Balenciaga and Spain, the book

The elaborate costumes of Spanish Bull Fighters also influenced Balenciaga’s designs.

A detail of a deep pink gown from the book Balenciaga and Spain


Traditional Spanish costume worked it’s way into the designer’s aesthetic as well.

Photo of a rose hat from the book Balenciaga and Spain

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.

Poof skirt dress in Balenciaga and Spain, the book

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?

Comments (23)

  1. July 28, 2011 - 4:50 PM

    Thanks for sharing THE highlight of your SF trip. I’ve never been to any fashion exhibits, but would love to.

    • July 30, 2011 - 9:11 AM

      Fashion exhibits are fascinating, but they don’t happen nearly frequently enough for my taste! I try to attend any that happen here in LA, but it isn’t always easy to get to them.

  2. July 29, 2011 - 8:20 PM

    I love the pink dress. Match that with some pearls and some really nice flats… I can definitely see it at a cocktail party…

  3. July 30, 2011 - 9:10 AM

    @Kionon, Thanks for visiting my blog! Yes, that pink dress would look amazing with flats at a cocktail party!

  4. July 31, 2011 - 6:32 PM

    Sigh–I would so liked to have seen this exhibit in SF AND the McQueen exhibit in NYC. That is one of the drawbacks to living in the midwest–although I did get to an exhibit of Princess Di’s wedding gown and another on the religious symbolism of hats in the African-American community. This looks like a beautiful book.

  5. August 1, 2011 - 12:55 AM

    Thank so much for sharing these! I wish there was also an exhibition of all of Vionnets & even Schiaparelli’s work…

    Have a great week lovely!


  7. August 4, 2011 - 10:17 AM

    Congrats to being part of Links a la Mode, dear. You deserve it.

    *Hugs*, Jen

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  12. August 8, 2011 - 6:34 PM

    It’s like that at these exhibits . . . not wanting you to take any pictures. At the McQueen exhibit (which was so wonderful) the guards were watching like hawks eyeing prey. I did manage two photos by using my cellphone and a little video. But, honestly, even pictures could not have captured the essence of the exhibit.
    I suppose having had the opportunity to see it (when so many wish they could have) is what matters.

    • August 21, 2011 - 4:05 PM

      @Sharon, Seeing it is really what matters, but I do wish if they won’t let you take photos that photos of the garments would be up on-line at the museum or something like that. My book is great, but not all of the dresses are photographed in color, which is a shame because the colors were so beautiful.

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  14. August 21, 2011 - 5:23 AM

    Gorgeous girl, just checking in on you! Hope all is well with you!

  15. August 21, 2011 - 4:00 PM

    @A Brit Greek, Hello my dear! All is well with me. I just returned from a 2 and a half week vacation which was a lot of fun. Thanks for stopping by!

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  17. August 23, 2011 - 8:47 AM

    I love the deYoung and wish I had seen this. Hopefully it will travel!

    xo mary jo

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