Cristóbal Balenciaga: The Master

A velvet cape on display at the exhibit, as photographed in the accompanying book, "Balenciaga: Spanish Master," on page 40. I love the collar.

Two weeks ago, my parents were in town visiting and I took them with me to see Balenciaga: Spanish Master, at the Queen Sophía Spanish Institute on Park Avenue. I’d been wanting to see it for a while, but decided it would be really meaningful to bring my mom, who loves beautiful clothes and who would probably remember some of the ones on display from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

For obvious reasons, I loved the exhibit, but there was one particular part of it that will stick with me forever. There was a display of 3 black dresses with the accompanying placard below listing the provenance of each garment and two paragraphs about Balenciaga and his black dresses. As I read the text and got to the second paragraph I had one of my I’m-so-excited-about-sewing-and-fashion-that-it’s-almost-pathetic moments and yelled at my mom — in the loudest whisper possible, of course — to come and read the placard:

“In each of Balenciaga’s ninety-three collections there was always one black dress cut and sewn entirely by him. Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel described her friend as ‘the only couturier. He is the only one who knows how to cut a fabric, and mount and sew it with his own hands. The others are just draughtsmen.'”

My mom smiled and looked at me and said, “Well, that’s exactly what you do!”

And it is; all of the gowns on my blog and website were created with my own two hands. I think it’s so important as a designer to really understand not just how to sketch a pretty, idealized, elongated croquis and hand it off to an atelier or sample room to create, but how to turn it into a real garment on a real body, without help from anyone else. I love that Balenciaga fundamentally understood this, and lived it throughout his entire career, even though he was Balenciaga, and didn’t have to. He was as dedicated to the craft of dressmaking as he was famous for defining fashion and I believe there is a correlation between the two. His conviction and reverence for the actual act of dressmaking are part of the reason that we collectively refer to him as “the Master,” a moniker coined by Christian Dior, a genius by anyone’s standard, who declared Balenciaga “the master of us all.”

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