“Haute Couture is like an orchestra, whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are musicians and we follow the direction he gives.”
Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hiver Peacock dress, AW 1958
Photography Tom Kublin, courtesy of the Balenciaga Archives
The exhibition ‘Game Changers – Reinventing the 20th century silhouette’ looks at the groundbreaking work of fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga whose innovations in the middle of the 20th century created a radically new silhouettte, in which the body got freedom of movement and architectural volumes created a space around the body.
Along with the pioneers of haute couture in the 1920s and 1930s and later on also the designers of the 1980s and 1990s, Balenciaga provided an alternative for the prevailing constrictive hourglass silhouette. These ‘Game Changers’ looked at fashion of the 20th century from a new perspective
Influences from Japan, such as the kimono, liberated women from their tight corsets at the beginning of the 20th century. Fashion designers such as Madeleine Vionnet, Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel shaped this freedom in the 1920s – 1930s with technical innovations and modern ideas about feminity. At the end of the 20th century, the boundaries of the female silhouette are further explored by Japanese and Belgian designers such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela. They paved the way for new body shapes and abstract silhouettes and gave a new interpretation of what could be considered as fashion.
The central figure in the exhibition is the Basque fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) who is seen as the pivotal figure between the two periods, the architect of innovation. His patterns and work are the central axis of the exhibition. Each of the other designers worked in their own way on similarly innovative ideas and shifted the boundaries of the classic feminine silhouette.
In this way, fashion becomes more than a sequence of trends; fashion is a way to shape the body, space and movement. Rei Kawakubo’s ‘Body meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ collection of SS 1997 shows how these new shapes have become a part of the fashion vocabulary.
The exhibition unites 100 unique couture and ready-to-wear silhouets by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionnet, Gabrielle Chanel, but also Issey Miyake, Ann Demeulemeester, Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Maison Martin Margiela. With loans from prestigious collections of the museum of Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the V&A, MUDE Lisbon and Musée Galliera.