For Cristóbal Balenciaga, black was more than a color or even a noncolor; it was a vibrant matter! His amazing evolution of draping and manipulation towards fabrics was magical. Palais Galliera at Les Museés De La Ville De Paris (The City of Paris Fashion Museum) blessed the Kimball Art Museum in Forth Worth, TX with the Balenciaga in Black exhibit during the last quarter of the year. Balenciaga in Black also features select pieces from the Texas Fashion Collection at the University of North Texas in Denton. In a nutshell, Balenciaga in Black bled couture 1950's luxury high class and high dollar!
As guest enter the exhibit, a portrait of Cristóbal Balenciaga covered the entire wall, talk about a boss welcome. The exhibit brought fashionistos a journey full of equixsite creations that embodied avant garde silhouettes and of course, it was draped in all black! Balenciaga in Black started with the obivous, sketch and construction. Couture designer's guidelines are similar to sculptures and painters. Cutting sewing patterns is the first stages and the overall blue print when creating a garment. This stage is crucial because materials and fabrics must be chosen wisely for balanced proportions and fluidity.
The first stages of Balenciaga's process is draping fabric onto a dress form, produced on toile, the french term for canvas. Couture sewing is a tedious process, designers would manipulate and adjust three dimensional sketches for hours until the perfect version was drafted. Toiles are traditonally created with muslin but Cristobal's were black in hue and cut in light but firm percale, in heavier twill or sometimes stiff tarlatan, depending on the design.
It was astonishing to see that he actually hand stitched his markings for cutting patterns instead of chalk! His precision allowed him to create beautiful abstract and voluminous garments. Balenciaga's body of work was truly a timeless piece of art.
After laying the foundation, the exhibits showcased an abundant display of gowns, dresses, coats, and dazzling accessories that would literally take your breath away. The atmosphere was fun, fabulous, and filled with fashion lovers. Highlight for me, of course was a lovely woman awarding my photographer Jeremy, and I best dressed...can you guess what color we were in head to toe? It's obvious right?
Anyway, the Balenciaga in Black exhibit was a safe haven for creatives in the fashion industry.
I ran into one of my favorite designers Erica D. Woodmore, notable designer here in Dallas, TX who specializes in all black pieces @edwfashn. I also had the pleasure of meeting Najah Nash-Simpson designer of House of Nash, who just recently moved to New York city @houseofnash_.
Aside, from giving us structure and abstract volumes; The Balenciaga In Black Exhibit highlights four major concepts Cristobal used to manipulate black fabrics and textiles:
1. Draped Black 2. Contrasting Black 3. Black and Transparency 4. Black and Colors
Structured & Abstract Volumes
"Balenciaga's research and experiments gradually led him towards a deconstruction of traditional forms and the invention and elaboration of increasingly abstract figures. The garment became more than an envelope and grew to be independent of the body. Balenciaga's choice of black for his creations was a clear move towards geometry, as seen in the great wool or velvet coats surmounted by high colors reminiscent of imperious Cubist architecture."
"The designer's use of gazer and zagar - fabrics specially developed for him, 1958 and 1964 respectively, by Gustav Zumsteg, who ran the Swiss textile firm Abraham- inspired him to yet more abstraction.
These fabrics are feather light, full, and unpredictable. The master couturier brought all his sensitivity to bear on them, imbuing the fabrics with energy and movement and creating completely new figures. The most emblematic garments were designed in black, like the cone-shaped dress pinched in at the shoulders and held up by nothing more than two jeweled straps, or the tall column ending in a draped hood, as if it were cut and sculpted from a single block of stone."
"Balenciaga was an expert in cutting fabric, having trained as a tailor with Casa Gomez and worked as head of the ladies’ tailoring department of the Au Louvre department stores in San Sebastián. The cut of the fabric defines a garment’s contours and creates the desired shape. With proportions calculated to the nearest millimeter, Balenciaga’s coats and structured suits hug the figure.
Bretelle (vertical slimming) seams and princess seams, darts and gathers were carefully chosen to give curves to certain volumes or to hollow them out. The sleeves were the object of equally painstaking research, as their construction defines the shoulder line, which is responsible for the balance of the garment."
Balenciaga Archives, Paris
Click this link to view our Instagram highlights of our favorite pieces, including the cone shape dress.
"In order to get the best out of fabric, Balenciaga would adopt his technique to its qualities. The weight, thickness, hang, and feel of a fabric would determine how he would cut, mold, or drape it. He used black textures to accentuate the play of shadows or to emphasize a shape.
He would hint at movement with a piece of soft, flowing crêpe; taffeta he would crumple, letting its lightness and soft sheen suggest figures with constantly changing outlines. With seersuckers, the flounces would be secured with a drawstring rather than gathered."
"For untamable gazar and stubborn zagar silks, Balenciaga would suggest rounded pleats that pick up pearly reflections from the light. The blackness of these pleats could give dramatic volume to the skirt of a dress with a low, below-the-hip waistline or heighten the effect of a plunging neckline."
Balenciaga Archives, Paris
"The duality of light and shadow is a fundamental aspect of artistic expression in Spain. Inspired by this tradition, Balenciaga arranged elements of his garments to showcase the opposition between the two essential qualities of black, “brilliant black,” the black of elegance and ceremony —and—matte black,” the color of darkness and mourning."
"With the dull, matte surfaces of wool or deep, inky velvet, the couturier juxtaposed the brightness of smooth, shining satin ribbons or the silky reflections of taffeta.
The contrasting nature of these black materials, which revealed their qualities only in the light, allowed him to discreetly mark a waistline, give life to the line of a straight dress, or counterbalance a volume."
Black & Transparency
"Balenciaga was partially fond of the transparency of black lace. The way he was able to manipulate the most ethereal material made his dresses seem to float on the body, Black lace, of course, held a special place in Balenciaga's art, as it embodied the very soul of Spanish piety and folklore.
In his hands, however, it was never merely picturesque or pretty, nor was it a source of easy charm. He used it in very particular ways- crumpling it or gathering it- so that its darkness magnified the graphic effects of pleats and shredded areas."
"Dresses cut from widths of black silk mechanical lace were finished with extreme precision. The seats were inlaid with delicate, satin stitched, floral motifs, as were the indentations cut out of flounces and sewn around necklines and armholes so that they would separate slightly from the skin.
Stiffened with horsehair braiding, each flounce stood out from the fabric to reveal its own gossamer web, creating imperceptible modulations and shades of opaqueness."
Black & Color
"Although the various mutations of black offered Balenciaga an infinite and ever-changing range of tones with which to work, he would sometimes respond to black’s austerity with accents of color. He saw in the opposition of black and white a timeless association, one that evoked the lace ruffs of the austere suits of Spanish monarchs, synonymous with both luxury and renunciation, or the immaculate collars of bourgeois dress, symbolizing ceremony and restraint.
Throughout his career, these two tendencies were in continual dialogue, manifesting in the uniform, matte white of clearly defined cuffs and facings and the quivering, voluminous white of fur collars and feather edges."
"The color pink, which Balenciaga loved, could provide a delicate or vibrant contrast with black. His decision to choose a bold, a striking, or a pale pink was dictated by the materials he was using.
Deep pink, reminiscent of the silk stockings or the cape of a bullfighter, was used sparingly. Satin ribbons were generally in a softer shade; their brilliance was enough to create an intense contrast. The couturier used a milky, almost flesh-colored shade of pink only for organza, over which he placed black silk lace."
Balenciaga Archives, Paris
Balenciaga in Black with the help of Texas Fashion Collection at the University of North Texas in Denton, gave fashion lovers a little extra with an additional concept called Black and Sheen. Accessories like headdresses, hats, and jewelry crafted by Balenciaga shine beautifully against the transparent box cases. Other garments with beading, embroidery, and sequin were apart of the dazzling story.
Cristóbal Balenciaga was one of a kind. During his era, he was one of the rare couturiers capable of constructing a garment by himself from start to finish. Early in his career, he bought Paquin, Vionnet, Schiaparelli, and Chanel in order to take them apart to understand their construction while perfecting his own technique. His skill in couture allowed him to innovate classic methods and invent his own rules as he soared to an even more minimalist aesthetic.
Balenciaga's approach to high fashion is mathematical science! Often called “the couturier’s couturier,” Balenciaga is the designer most revered by other fashion designers. Basically your favorite designer's favorite designer. Balenciaga’s use of endless shades of black emphasizes the essential shapes, dense volumes, and astonishing silhouettes of his unique creations. His timeless and expertly execution continues to influence modern fashion today.
Photography by Jeremy Thigpin