Balenciaga in Black

7 October 2018–6 January 2019

Exhibition Overview

Cristóbal Balenciaga, Dress and capelet ensemble, 1968.
Façonné quilted with artificial fibers. Abraham Lurex lamé, lining in silk taffeta.

Often called “the couturier’s couturier,” Balenciaga is the designer most revered by other fashion designers. From his first runway collection in 1937 through the closure of his Paris salon in 1968, Balenciaga had as his clients some of the most influential trendsetters of the day. Balenciaga in Black features more than one hundred pieces from the collections of the Palais Galliera, the City of Paris’s museum of fashion, and from the Archives Balenciaga. The carefully selected costumes and accessories, all made by hand in the haute-couture ateliers of this fashion genius, share one major feature: they are all black. Black, because Balenciaga’s sources of inspiration, the spiritual underpinnings of his work, were the folklore and traditions of his native Spain. The aim of the exhibition is to suggest a reassessment of the great couturier’s work and to convey an understanding of Balenciaga’s artistry in manipulating black fabrics, embroideries, and lace—magically transforming these materials into exquisite garments.

For Balenciaga, black was more than a color or even a noncolor; it was a vibrant matter, by turns opaque or transparent, matte or shiny—a dazzling interplay of light, showcased as much through the luxurious quality of the fabrics as through the simplicity of a garment’s cut. From the never-before-seen black prototypes to the most abstract forms from his later collections, Balenciaga’s use of infinite shades of black emphasizes the essential shapes, dense volumes, and astonishing silhouettes of his unique creations. His timeless and expertly executed clothes, with impeccably composed adornments of lace, embroidery, silk, satin, fringes, beads, and sequins, continue to inspire modern fashion.

(Photo © Julien Vidal/Galliera/Roger-Viollet.)

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