Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion


It’s hard to think of a better match for the Victoria & Albert Museum than Cristóbal Balenciaga. A giant in fashion history, Balenciaga was the king of the fashion world, and is just as much revered now, over 45 years after his death, as he was in his lifetime.

This year, a century after he opened his first fashion house in San Sebastián, the V&A is honouring the Basque designer with a large-scale retrospective exhibition that runs until February 2018.

Balenciaga made his name in Paris in the 1940s and 1950s in the golden age of haute couture. His creations were legendary, as was the aura that surrounded the designer himself and his atelier. “A woman has no need to be perfect or even beautiful to wear my dresses. The dress will do all that for her,” he once said.

The exhibition explores Balenciaga’s exquisite handiwork and innovative designs, focusing mostly on the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the work of the fashion designers who have followed in his footsteps — from his former apprentices André Courrèges and Emanuel Ungaro to more recent designs from Oscar de la Renta, Phoebe Philo for Celine and Erdem and many, many others.

There are over 100 of his creations on display, with x-ray photography showing the incredibly intricate craftsmanship that went into the simplest looking gowns. The designer’s revolutionary shapes feature prominently in the exhibition, such as his tunic, sack, baby doll and shift dresses. There’s also a replica of Balenciaga’s cape/skirt that you can try on.

The V&A has the largest Balenciaga collection in the UK, in large part thanks to the photographer Cecil Beaton, who collected many of the garments the V&A now owns.

Haute couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other courtiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.

Christian Dior


The Victoria & Albert Museum's collection is vast; it spans over 2,000 years of art history and covers fashion, jewellery, art, furniture, ceramics and metalwork, as well as its temporary exhibitions, currently a Pink Floyd retrospective (until October 1) and Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (from September 30 to February 25, 2018), as well as smaller temporary exhibits on subjects as diverse as plywood, post-Soviet printmaking and contemporary Korean ceramics. The museum also holds many events from talks on fashion and decorative arts (for example X-ray photographer Nick Veasey talking on Forensic Fashion).

The Connaught is offering a special experience including tickets to Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, a copy of the official exhibition book and the DVD of Federico Fellini’s classic film La Dolce Vita, which took its inspiration from Balenciaga’s 1957 sack dress. At the end of the day, guests can enjoy a signature Connaught martini, either in the award-winning Connaught Bar or in the elegant privacy of their room or suite.

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Photo credit: Evening dress, silk taffeta, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paris, 1955 -® Victoria and Albert Museum, London


27 May - 18 February


V&A Museum
Cromwell Road
South Kensington
London SW7 2RL


Open daily from 10am to 5.45pm, and until 10pm on Fridays. The exhibition closes 15 minutes prior to museum closing time.

Museum closed December 24, 25 & 26.

The V&A recommends booking tickets in advance for this exhibition.