TD and I recently attended the press preview for Balenciaga: Spanish Master at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute. This show, about the famous couturier who grew up in Spain and then worked in Paris, was conceived by fashion designer Oscar de la Renta who is the chairman of the Institute, and curated by Hamish Bowles, Vogue's European Editor at Large. We did a video tour through the exhibit and had the pleasure of talking with Hamish about the show which you can watch at the end of this post. You might remember that we talked to Hamish during our visit to the Met's Costume Institute.
The Queen Sofia Spanish Institute promotes awareness and understanding of the culture of the Spanish speaking world in the United States. Certainly, Cristobal Balenciaga, born in a small fishing village on the northern coast of Spain in 1895, is one of the stars of the Spanish arts. His father was a fisherman and his mother took in sewing. As a boy, he was interested in sewing and his talent was spotted by the most prominent woman in town, Marquesa de Casa Torres, who became his patron and client. She sent the teen to Madrid for formal training in tailoring, and proudly wore the results. Balenciaga designed clothes in Spain for the aristocracy and royal family until the Spanish Civil War forced him to move. He opened his house of couture in Paris in 1937 and worked there until he closed it in 1968, dying four years later.
Due to his training in technique and construction, Balenciaga could drape, cut and fit his own patterns so he was able to create new shapes – balloon, cocoon or funnel shapes that stood away from the body. Instead of a lot of ornamentation or decoration, the clothes had a simplicity which was loved by the chic women of the time, including the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace and Babe Paley.Harper's Bazaar observed that Balenciaga
"abides by the great rule that
elimination is the secret of chic."
Balenciaga himself was an enigma, giving only one interview in fifty years. Known for the rigor his discipline, he was called the "monk of fashion." Coco Chanel said, "He is the only true couturier among us." Cecil Beaton commented that "Balenciaga is "fashion's Picasso," referring to another great artist from Spain.
Enjoy this video visit to the exhibition and my chat with Hamish Bowles: