Coco Chanel once described Cristóbal Balenciaga as the only true couturier of their time, referring to his ability not only to design a garment but also to assemble it perfectly with his own hands. Born in a Basque fishing village in 1895, Balenciaga discovered his calling through his seamstress mother. After pursuing formal training in Madrid and builing up a successful business with an exclusive clientele, he relocated to France during the Spanish Civil War. (This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of his Paris atelier on posh Avenue George V.) Among the designer’s enduring contributions to fashion were the trapeze dress and bracelet sleeves. Claiming that “elegance is elimination,” he favored clean, sculptural silhouettes; this did not preclude the inclusion of intricate details — lace, embroidery, fringes, beadwork, and sequins.
Balenciaga in Black brings together more than 100 handmade garments and accessories from the collections of Paris’s Palais Galliera (the City of Paris Fashion Museum) and the archives of the Maison Balenciaga. The choice of black as a unifying theme is not only a nod to the designer’s own preference for the color but also allows viewers to focus on the shape and construction of the garments, the way the qualities of different fabrics and adornments are masterfully used to their best advantage.