Wonderland.

7 Wonders: Balenciaga

Ahead of the new V&A show, we explore the Spanish house’s hits.

Launching on Saturday, the V&A will open its doors to an exciting new exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, a comprehensive exploration of Cristobal Balenciaga’s work as the founder of one of world’s most controversial fashion powerhouses. The show also marks the first time the UK has held an exhibition the delves into the Spanish house’s impressive design heritage and the monumental influence that Balenciaga has had on the world of design since the the brand’s inception in the 20s.

Focusing predominantly on Balenciaga’s work during the 50s and 60s (often considered the peak of his artistic endeavours), the V&A will display over 100 garments and 20 hats – the majority of which will have never been on public display prior to Shaping Fashion; these pieces will stand alongside a selection of sketches, photography, patterns, samples and runway imagery, offering fashion devotees the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the world of Cristobal Balenciaga, and simultaneously appreciate areas of his design prowess otherwise lesser known.

To celebrate the exhibition’s launch, seven of the house’s major moments.

Demna Gvasalia

The man behind Balenciaga’s recent revolution – pushing the brand into new, previously-unexplored areas – Demna Gvasalia (the Georgian designer behind Vetements and previously Louis Vuitton), joined the team as Creative Director in 2015 following the departure of Alexander Wang.

His first collection for the brand was showcased for AW16. Sending shockwaves through the fashion community and leaving many-a-fashion writer shaking in their two-seasons-old Louboutin’s, Gvasalia sought to unite the age-old aesthetic of Cristóbal Balenciaga with his own, street level vibes. The results? Puffa jackets of striking and outlandish size partnered with statement claiming wedge boots; XL shirts and billowing skirts.

The Envelope Dress

Ever seeking to push the boundaries of fashion by creating daring designs and silhouettes, the 60s envelope dress was the fashion talking point of the decade. Despite Cristóbal claiming he only sold two of the dynamic dresses (one of which was returned because the buyer had no idea how to wear it), the abstract idea went on to influence future designs and cuts throughout the industry and is still considered one of the most interesting designs amongst the fashion community some five decades later.

Sky’s The Limit

After conquering the runway and solidifying Balenciaga as a household name, and one synonymous with high fashion, the house decided to try its hand at something a little bit different (but equally as off-the-cuff) teaming up with airline providers to create chic uniforms for air stewards.

Air France and Oman Air have both received the Balenciaga treatment, with uniforms produced oozing the Balenciaga aesthetic whilst similarly ensuring they were easy to move in and comfortable for said staff.

IKEA

Much discussed (in multiple circles) when it hit production lines earlier this year, Balenciaga’s Arena Extra Large Tote Bag was noted for being almost identical to IKEA’s durable FRAKTA bag (you know the one). Mocking its $2k+ price tag, the bag created a wave of memes and even provoked a response from the Swedish retailer, who followed up with a tongue-in-cheek poster campaign that describes how to identify the “real” FRAKTA instead of the “knock-off.”

Despite IKEA poking fun, they released an official statement on the homage, stating: “We are deeply flattered that the Balenciaga tote bag resembles the Ikea iconic sustainable blue bag for 99 cents. Nothing beats the versatility of a great big blue bag!”

Bridal

The single seam wedding gown was a Balenciaga highlight. Devised in the 60s and containing just one single seam (obvs) to create a minimalistic and unique design, the dress became the envy of many brides-to-be. Since then, Balenciaga has continued to offer bridal designs that continue to adapt and reimagine the way the wedding dress should look.

Pantashoe

Adored by the likes of Rihanna and Kylie Jenner since dropping last year, Balenciaga’s “pantashoe” has been dubbed by many “the future of fashion.” Effectively a waist-high version of the thigh-high boot, they come in a variety of different colours from bold and bright yellows and purples to understated nudes and light pink. The boots were commonplace on the red carpet at this years Met Gala, with Salma Hayek and Lily Aldridge both among those opting for the design.

Bernie Sanders

Occasionally fashion and politics unite – and usually it’s a stellar combination (just look at Ashish’s AW17 collection). Gvasalia too, has dipped his toe into the political pool, namely for the house’s AW17 menswear show which featured now-iconic pieces branded with a reimagining of Bernie Sander’s widely-recognised campaign logo (reading Balenciaga in place of Bernie, instead of Bernie it read Balenciaga of course).

When quizzed on what he thought of Balenciaga’s thinly-veiled tribute, Sanders responded by saying, “Of my many attributes, being a great dresser or a fashion maven is not one of them.” We beg to differ.

Words
Ryan Cahill
7 Wonders: Balenciaga

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