In the simplest terms, Spanish couture designer Cristóbal Balenciaga made an indelible mark on the changing face of fashion by both elevating and freeing women through his innovative clothing designs.
Considered by some to be the greatest couturier of the 20th century, his inspiration came from his roots on the native Basque country — peasants and fisherwomen and farmers — and combined their rustic silhouettes with sumptuous fabric and fine tailoring, honing his vision into the height of haute couture.
In the 1950s and '60s, Balenciaga broke with the structure and stricture of designers such as Christian Dior by creating the sack dress, a fluid frock that still managed to drape over the body in elegance and sensuality.
BALENCIAGA: Spanish Master, the first exhibition to consider the impact of Spain's culture, history and art on one of its greatest twentieth-century sons, the legendary designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972). Hailed as "Fashion's Picasso" by Cecil Beaton, Balenciaga's innovations transformed the way women dressed, from the opening of his Paris fashion house in 1937 until his retirement in 1968. His visionary designs and impeccable standards seduced generations of the best-dressed women in the world.
The exhibit traveled to San Francisco, too, but now his creations will find a permanent home, fittingly, in his hometown of Getaria.
The 19th century mansion that forms part of the museum once belonged to the titled family that employed his mother as a seamstress (Balenciaga's father was a Basque fisherman). Annexed to the manse is an angular glossy black cube – more starkly emblematic of Balenciaga's own subtle blending of the traditional with the contemporary.
The museum as a standalone destination sets an interesting precedent. Prominent museums have costume collections, such as NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chicago History Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, to name a few.
There was the Chanel touring museum celebrating that designer's iconic quilted bag. And the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit at the Met's Costume Institute was a blockbuster — breaking exhibit attendance records.
The previous year's Costume Institute exhibit at the Met illuminated the American Woman through a timeline of fashion — illustrating the integral part clothing plays in women's experience of their lives. Love, Loss & What I Wore, the play (and book) further illustrates this — women remembering what they were wearing during important events in their lives as indelibly linked with the events themselves.
But this is the first museum dedicated to a single designer (that I'm aware of). Hubert de Givenchy, the president of the Balenciaga Foundation, notes that there will be revolving exhibits in addition to the permanent installations. This makes ultimate sense because Balenciaga is still a thriving couture house.
I hope people will make the pilgrimage to see it. But I predict that there will be more designer museums to come.
Would you like to visit the museum? Which designer's museum would you like to see?
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