Cristóbal Balenciaga has invaded the de Young museum in San Francisco. The exhibit, running until July 4, has more than 100 pieces of Balenciaga clothing and accessories. These items date from the start of his career in the early 1930’s to the late 1960’s.Included are breathtaking evening gowns, empowering suits and of course abstract pieces. Balenciaga was able to capture a woman’s essence at every stage of her life. He changed the mold for women’s suits in 1947. During a time when Christian Dior had made the hourglass figure iconic, it was Balenciaga who made the fitted suit more appealing for decades to come.
Balenciaga spent a great amount of time of his career in Paris, but always made sure to draw from his Spanish roots when creating his art. He used bullfights, flamenco dancers and tunics that Spanish fishermen would wear as influences. Balenciaga even drew inspiration from attire worn by members of the San Salvador Catholic church where he was an alter boy. In 1952 he introduced the famous pillbox hat that was inspired by Catholic clerk skullcaps.
The exhibit consists of four rooms, each with more clothes then the next. The third room has many of the designer’s culturally inspired works, with matador jackets and flamenco dresses. Visitors can even hear the rhythms and melodies of traditional flamenco music that Balenciaga would listen as he designed. Though he did not like bullfighting, he could not resist creating clothes from the sport’s iconic costumes.
The exhibit also shows how Spanish royal families from the 15th and 16th centuries and Spanish artists also inspired Balenciaga. He combined strong red and black pieces combined with regal and elegant velvets and silks. Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez were two of Balenciaga’s muses. Both artists at one time were painters for the Spanish royal court and Balenciaga would study these paintings of the royal families and create dresses from the artwork.
One of my favorite pieces from the exhibit was a summer evening dress from 1951. It’s a white, silk, long sleeve dress. On the dress there are cluster of black beads that from a distance look like polka dots, but up close it’s impossible to miss how beautiful the detail is in the dress.
Another favorite was another summer evening dress from 1956. A white taffeta dress with a red carnation flower print. The same flower is the national flower of Spain and symbolizes the bullring where the sport takes place.
One of Balenciaga’s last pieces before the end of his career was a wedding dress and veil he created in 1968. The white silk and satan organza dress is very sleep, with clean lines and no adornments. Simple, yet classy and elegant. The veil resembles a nun’s veil to symbolize purity.
In 1968 at the age of 74, the “Picasso of fashion” closed the doors of his stores and stopped designing. As guests walk through and gaze at the marvelous exhibit it is difficult to believe all the pieces at the de Young are at least 40 years old – it is easy to imagine them on the runways during last season’s fashion week. Balenciaga’s mind and imagination were far beyond their time and will forever be timeless.