Step into the world of Cristóbal Balenciaga at the V&A and discover how his work continues to shape fashion as we know it today

Words Helen Brown

Cristóbal Balenciaga was indisputably one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. Revered by his contemporaries, including Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy, his exquisite craftsmanship, pioneering use of fabric and innovative cutting set the tone for the modernity of the late 20th century fashion. This spring the V&A have opened the first ever exhibition exploring the work of this illustrious designer and the influence he continues to have on modern fashion.

It is the first of its kind to look at Balenciaga’s unique approach to designing and showcases pieces by his protégés and contemporary designers working in the same innovative way today. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion focuses on the latter part of Balenciaga’s long career in the 1950s and 1960s, arguably one of his most creative periods. It was during these years that he not only dressed some of the most renowned women of the time, but also introduced revolutionary shapes including the tunic, the sack, ‘baby doll’ and shift dress – all of which remain style staples today. Highlights include ensembles made by Balenciaga for Hollywood actress Ava Gardner, dresses and hats belonging to socialite and 1960s fashion icon Gloria Guinness, and pieces worn by one of the world’s wealthiest women, Mona von Bismarck, who commissioned everything from ball-gowns to gardening shorts from the couturier.

On display are over 100 garments and 20 hats, many of which have never been on public display before. These are accompanied by archive sketches, patterns, photographs, fabric samples and catwalk footage revealing Balenciaga’s uncompromising creativity. The exhibition will show his lasting impact on fashion through the work of those who trained with him and through recent garments by designers including Molly Goddard, Demna Gvasalia and J.W. Anderson who reflect the legacy of his vision today.

On now until 18 February 2018 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, open daily 10:00 – 17:30 and Fridays 10:00 – 21:30

Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, SW7; vam.ac.uk

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