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BALENCIAGA

 
 

Déjà Vu: All Over Again!

   

 

  

 

Diana Vreeland (she of the marvelous aphorism Pink is the navy blue of India) once said: "People used to keep telling me that fashion came from the streets, but I had always seen it at Balenciaga first." 

Fashion history like art history now – looking at dresses, at the array of shapes, of forms, that are worn today, one recognizes in them the hand of Balenciaga.  Called the greatest couturier of the 20th century, Balenciaga thought his most important contribution to fashion history was a new silhouette for women.  Silhouette was everything, something that was like clay that he shaped and molded, widening shoulders, moving away from the hourglass and a restrictive waist.  He manipulated the waist, agonized over the cut of a sleeve for hours.  Flaubert searching for le mot juste.  Colors from black to all the shades of brown (as if lifted from Goya’s Black Paintings), the characteristic black lace over shocking pink, flashes of brilliant hues as if stolen from tropical birds (peacock blues, flamingo pinks and oranges, the brilliant green of parrots).

The recognizable silhouettes then: the sack dress (hiding the curves, a woman freed from a restrictive silhouette); the square coat with the sleeve in one piece with the yoke (minimalist construction); the balloon jacket (a woman's head like a bud over a billowing silhouette, the exaggeration emphasizing the fragility of the form below); draped jersey (a dress that clings and wraps, a woman like a butterfly, protected); the babydoll dress (cute, sexy, an enduring summer staple); the marvelous bracelet sleeve (cut away to reveal opera glove or jeweled cuff); the bubble skirt or balloon skirt (beautiful upside-down tulips).

There were two strains evident in his work -- a tendency toward the lush and ornate (memories of embroidered and jewel-encrusted toreador's jackets, of the Infanta's gown, Spanish lace and pomp) and then the 20th century architect, moving towards minimalism (playing with the waist or removing it altogether, the fabric free from all decoration, a certain pared-down aesthetic).

Vogue said of Balenciaga that he had the flame of prophecy...This summer, when you see a recognizable silhouette on the street, remember, you saw it at Balenciaga first….      

 

Read: Judith Thurman's marvelous essay on Balenciaga in Cleopatra's Nose - 39 Varieties of Desire     

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