Balenciaga - L'oevre au Noir

In light of the impending opening of 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' exhibition at the V&A this coming Saturday, I became aware of another Balenciaga exhibition currently on display. 

Held at Musée Bourdelle, part of the infamous Palais Galliera, in Paris, 'Balenciaga - L'oevre au Noir', is an exhibition paying homage to the 'couturier of couturiers'. Curated by Véronique Belloir, the curator of haute-couture collections at Palais Galliera, this exhibition displays variations of black repeated in over a hundred of pieces from the Galliera collections and the archives of Maison Balenciaga. 

While I am excited to visit the V&A interpretation of curating Cristóba Balenciaga, unsurprisingly, when I learnt of the Parisian exhibition, centring on my favourite shade, I knew both were must sees. Although I have yet to attend this exhibition - I have a last minute and air b'n'b open in tabs on my mac as I type - the images I have seen thus far illustrate my personal mantra about black. Balenciaga expertly utilised black in different textures, materials, finished and silhouettes to show the versatility of the shade. In fact, as Belloir states, “[r]evisiting Balenciaga’s work without the distraction of color enables us to focus our gaze on the essentials, and enter into the subtlety of his materials and execution.” To further this, in 1938, Harper’s Bazaar described Balenciaga black as “almost velvety, a night without stars, which makes the ordinary black seem almost grey.”[1]

According to the Palais Galliera description of the exhibition, Balenciaga was motivated by black; it was this exceptionally skilled tailor's preference. "Balenciaga saw black as a vibrant matter whether it be opaque or transparent, matt or shiny - a dazzling interplay of light, that owes as much to the luxurious quality of the fabrics as to the apparent simplicity of the cut." [2] The exquisite tailoring that Balenciaga is famous for, combined with juxtaposing fabrics, such as lace highlights on silk velvet, to a cape reinvented as a coat, ensures that each all black ensemble is intrinsically different and each can individually be admired. 

What perhaps interests me the most is the curatorial decisions of the exhibition. As illustrated above, the garments are mounted amongst sculptures in the Musée Bourdelle, supposedly to mirror the "pure sculptural effect of Balenciaga's creations."[2] This museum is entirely dedicated to the work of early-20th-century sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, providing an interesting space to present fashion and dress. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I have become interested in fashion curation, and the way in which the display of fashion and textiles has changed and developed over time. I really appreciate this multidisciplinary route of display, utilising other forms of art as a compliment, rather than a backdrop, to the haute-couture clothing. As can be seen in the below images, the structural tailoring of the garments really are enhanced by the surrounding sculptures and dramatic use of light. 

In the scenography, the Palais Galliera director Olivier Saillard made the most of the museum’s vertical space, propping dresses up high and arranging them in mirrored stands as a counterpoint to the museum’s sculpture collection. [3] Hamish Bowels, writing for Vogue, describes the space as follows, "[s]et to float among Bourdelle’s epic statues and portrait busts, or framed by black walled cases, in both the hubristically scaled galleries and in the sculptor’s more intimately scaled atelier, the exhibition, is revelatory." [4]

Having seen the press shots of the exhtion in Paris, and potentially seeing it before it closes in July, it would be interesting to contrast it to the 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' version at the V&A, which certainly does not shy away from the bright opulent colours also used by the couturier. Similarly, to compare the use of space will be of interest, as the V&A has a dedicated, separate space for Fashion and Textiles within it. 

'Balenciaga - L'oevre au Noir' is an exhibition that speaks to me for many reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, it's focus on all black ensembles of course entices me. Not only will it showcase the beauty of black, along with a versatility that I have always believed in, it may also serve as inspiration of how I can put together my own exclusively black attire. 

Secondly, the innovative and interesting approach to curating the garments alongside the existing, traditional sculptures of the museum really intrigues me, and is something that I wish to study further in my academic endeavours.

The exhibition is open until 16 July 2017. 

[1] Sarah Moroz, 'Tracing Balenciaga’s History of All-Black Outfits' The Cut, NY Mag, 5 March 2017.

[3] Tina Isaac-Goizé, 'Balenciaga, All Black', Vogue, 5 March 2017.

[4] Hamish Bowels, 'Balenciaga Is the New Black: The Fashion World Fetes the Designer’s Retrospective in Paris' Vogue, 6 March 2017.


Perspectives on Fashion Curation

 Disclaimer: this post was first published on the University of Brighton's History of Art and Design blog. All words are my own.

For a two week period, London College of Fashion (LCF) took over House of Vans in Waterloo with an exhibition and programme of events called Found In Translation, showcasing work from the School of Media and Communication postgraduate courses at LCF.  These include Master’s courses of interest to Brighton’s History of Art and Design BA programme students including Costume for Performance, Fashion Cultures, and perhaps most relevant for those studying Fashion and Dress History, Fashion Curation.

On Friday 17 February, I attended Perspectives on Fashion Curation: a series of presentations by some of the leading figures who teach on LCF postgraduate programmes in Fashion and Dress History and Fashion Curation. The event was chaired by Ben Whyman, the manager for Centre of Fashion Curation, and began with presentations from several experts in the field talking about different areas of fashion curation and exhibition making.

Susanna Cordner introduced the London College of Fashion Archive which is open by appointment only and has a vast array of fashion objects, literature and other artefacts. The collection includes 650 shoes from the Cordwainer College Archive dating back to the 18th century. Cordner has worked hard to create an immersive experience from the archive and organises events such as the Object Reading Group, where an object is presented and attendees discuss them, and Sartorial Stories, when a guest speaker from the industry, from designers to editors, bring in an object and discusses it in relation to their career and the fashion industry.

Jeff Horsley explored concepts of exhibition making, and spoke in great detail about the fashion displays in Antwerp that he has been researching for his PhD. Themes of his talk included the importance of exhibition entrances, concepts of what ‘objects’ are within a museum context and the use of mannequins for historical dress vs. contemporary haute couture that could be displayed on a live model. This is something Claire Wilcox  – curator of the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty – has explored with Fashion in Motion at the V&A by presenting contemporary fashion on live models around the museum rather than confined to a glass cabinet. Wilcox, who began working at the V&A in 1979, also spoke about changes in fashion collecting and the shifting attitudes towards fashion exhibitions and contemporary designers in a museum collection.

The penultimate presentation was an overview of the Fashion Space Gallery that is at the campus just off Oxford Circus. The space relaunched in 2014 and was described by Ligaya Salazar, the gallery director, as an ‘interdisciplinary incubator of ideas about fashion” and a “think tank for curatorial ideas and experimentation.” Although it is a small space, there is arguably more freedom than at a larger establishment, leading to innovative use of space and creative curatorial decisions. The current exhibition, Museum of Transology, curated by E-J Scott, documents objects of importance to members of the trans community and runs until 22 April 2017.

Their work also goes outside of the gallery with the travelling Polyphonic Playground. This off-site project is a kind of playground apparatus that can be used to make sound art as all of the surfaces use touch technology or electrical conducting thread to create sound.  Similarly, Alison Moloney spoke about a traveling exhibition she worked on called Cabinet Stories in which 7 curators would use the small cabinet space to display objects in different venues, including a women’s prison, an NHS hospital ward for people with suffering with personality disorders, a charity shop in Poplar and an old peoples home. At all the venues, people were encouraged to then display objects that meant a lot to them. This meant that people could get involved from the community in curation, showing the diversity of fashion outside of the museum. Moloney also introduced the project 1914 – Now, a series of films and essays summarising the themes of this event, which was displayed in the exhibition space at House of Vans and also available on SHOWstudio. Fashion films explore initiative ways to present fashion using film, visuals and sound, much in line with the inovations presented at this talk related to new ways to exhibit fashion and dress.

The final portion of the event was a panel discussion with Amy de la Haye, Alison Moloney, Jeffrey Horsely, Ligaya Salazar, and Claire Wilcox, where they discussed what curation meant for them, motivations when creating an exhibition and generally what it is like to curate a fashion exhibition. It was fascinating to hear differing approaches on the subject of fashion curation and to learn more about how experimental the field is.


Fashion In Motion - Inspired by Balenciaga

This month the V&A announced their much anticipated upcoming fashion exhibition, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. In celebration, this years "Fashion in Motion" event was titled "Inspired by Balenciaga".

Fashion in Motion is a series of live catwalk events presented at the V&A once a year. In it's history, this event has featured some of the greatest designers of our time, including Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Jean Paul Gauliter and Vivienne Westwood. Fashion in Motion brings catwalk couture to a wider audience by modelling it against the beautiful backdrop of the Museum.

In a recent talk at House of Vans, put on in collaboration with the London College of Fashion MA Fashion Curation course, I heard Claire Wilcox, who was a pivotal figure in the launch and continuation of Fashion in Motion, talk about the event. While some would argue that fashion is a form of art, something that I would agree with, and that haute couture garments exemplify craftsmanship and design in the intricate detail, having contemporary fashion within a fashion and textiles collection of a museum is still a relatively new practice, and still faces some contention from curators and fashion historians alike.

Projects such as the Fashion Museum, Bath's "Dress of the Year" ongoing exhibition ensures that at least one contemporary haute couture look makes it into the archive each year, suggesting an, albeit small, acceptance of the importance of the contemporary in an archive.

Wilcox stated that through Fashion in Motion, curators could respect the museum ethics while still also experimenting and showcase contemporary designers. When a piece enters a museum collection and is archived, it cannot be worn on a human body again, and must be stored in a manner that adheres to the archival rules, such as in a certain temperatures. Therefore, showing current pieces from designer archives on live models, whilst in the setting of a museum can portray the interactive, performative experience of a catwalk show, combining both the educational and inspirational aspects of a fashion museum experience.

On Friday 24th March, I attended the Fashion in Motion: Inspired by Balenciaga event which I believe embodied both these educational and inspirational aims.  Held in the Raphael Gallery and unlike previous events, which copied the set up of a catwalk show reminiscent of Fashion Week, this took the form of a collection presentation, where models entered and stood on a raised platform, completely still for the whole time. Guests were able to move around the models to view all pieces and take in each piece for as long as they should wish.

The garments on display were a unique selection of outfits created by students of Central Saint Martins BA Fashion Design Womenswear and BA Fashion Print students. They were created in response to the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, Spain.

According to the press release given to guests of the event the students drew inspiration from the archives of the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum, exploring the "pioneering use of fabrics, revolutionary shapes and exquisite attention to detail." To echo Balenciaga's consistent reference to his Spanish heritage, students were encouraged to look into their own histories to find inspiration from their origins and backgrounds.

The collection of 15 looks were, although all to an impeccable standard, each completely individual.  While each could stand alone in it's own right, together they worked cohesively, with specific detail to the shapes and silhouettes of each garment.

Giving contemporary, and in this case up-and-coming, designers the opportunity to display their work within a renowned gallery, with arguably one of the most extensive Fashion and Textiles collections, is an amazing project, and it is something that many designers aspire to. Fashion in Motion is a very important part of the V&A fashion department, one that I hope will continue. While it is fascinating to record, research, celebrate and display the fashions of the past, ultimately fashion is cyclical. Silhouettes and 'trends' resurface and are developed throughout difference centuries and it is important to display this. Many of the contemporary 'trends' are inspired by the past, or even further, many things that are now considered 'classics' were once a trend in their period.

Events such as Fashion in Motion celebrates the present, while acknowledging the importance of the past, for the design of the future.


The Haute Street

Since moving to Brighton almost three years ago, I've noticed some small home comforts I've missed about living and working in London. One of these, as small as it seems, was the ability to pick up the free magazines Stylist and ES Magazine from underground stations to read on my commute home. I have now realized that it became very easy to take this weekly routine for granted. Now, whenever I come to London midweek, I get (over) excited to pick up one, or both, of these magazine.

For the first time in about a year, I am back at 'home' home for a substantial amount of time. Usually my visits are fleeting and for a purpose - a family event, a fashion talk, or a job. This week I've had a week off work, and I also had to move out of my Brighton room so a sever mould and damp problem can finally be sorted (six months after moving in and reporting it, but better late than never, eh?).  Timing has not been my friend - my dissertation is due in 2 weeks today, so moving out with all nineteen of my heavy books, plus clothes, toiletries etc meant I was struggling on the tube during rush hour with a huge red suitcase - not very in keeping with my aesthetic, I know but it was the biggest case I had!- a tote bag with my laptop and a handbag with my essentials (read: lipstick).