The Palais Galliera in Paris is celebrating the 100th anniversary of fashion house Balenciaga by displaying the noir-inspired designs from founder Cristóbal Balenciaga at the Musée Bourdelle sculpture museum. The exhibit, which is part of a trio of Spanish-themed showcases from Palais Galliera, is titled “Balenciaga, l’oeuvre au noir.” In English: “Balenciaga: Working in Black.”
The celebratory exhibit displays more than 70 items from both the Galliera collection and the Balenciaga archive, including evening wear, day clothes, accessories and illustrations. There is hardly any color at all, except for the rare pink satin ribbon or barest hint of turquoise. However, the collection is hardly dour—rather, the absence of color serves to highlight the haute couture designer’s genius use of construction and unexpected feminine elegance. The elements of shadow and light become incredibly important when combined with Balenciaga’s sharp tailoring and careful application of textures. Véronique Belloir, the curator of haute couture collections at Palais Galliera, told wwd she hoped the exhibit would showcase this effect. “‘Working in Black’ is, in a sense, about the transmutation of dark materials and textures chosen by Balenciaga into clothes,” she said. “He always selected materials very precisely and tried to tease the very best out of them. All of them react very differently to light and have different weights.” The carefully constructed textures, when presented alongside the Bourdelle’s sculpture collection, are incredible eye-catching, and even unnerving.
At first glance, some of the silhouettes may appear unflattering or severe. When you take a closer look, the appeal becomes obvious. “He wouldn’t necessarily put the accent on the waist or cleavage. Instead, he would add volume to the back, even though that might not appear like the most elegant thing to do,” explained Belloir. “But he had such a sense of balance and proportion that all of a sudden, it gave off this amazing, regal sense of elegance.” The exhibition runs at the Bourdelle until July 16, and you can find more visitor’s information on the collection here.
Cristóbal Balenciaga died in 1972, and his fashion house continues to thrive through innovative creative director Demna Gvasalia. To say Balenciaga was an iconic designer feels woefully flat. His influence can be seen everywhere in high fashion, from Dior to Vetements. If you’re interested in haute couture, Balenciaga is a great place to start, and where better to start than with the beginning. Click through the gallery above to enjoy the exhibition photos, publicity visuals and rare illustrations of the Spanish designer’s first groundbreaking pieces.