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.

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