By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum in Madrid is offering a first-ever exhibit on classic Spanish art and the extraordinary designs of the late Basque fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, whose square coats and undulating bubble skirts revolutionized the international fashion world in the mid-1940s.
Referred to as “the master of us all” by Christian Dior and idolized by Coco Chanel, Balenciaga was one of the most admired and influential post-WWII designers, drawing on classic works of Spanish paintings for his inspiration.
The exhibition, which will open on June 28 and remain on display through Sept. 7, includes a carefully selected group of paintings loaned from private Spanish collections and public museums, including the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museos de Bellas Artes of Seville, Valencia and Bilbao.
Balenciaga constantly studied the history of art and made use of these influences, expressed through his own powerful and unique style, throughout his career, including his most avantgarde period, reviving historic garments and reinterpreting them in a strikingly modern manner.
His creations reflect influences of paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán , Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, Ignacio Zuloaga and Pablo Picasso.
The exhibition also includes a group of important creations by Balenciaga, some of them never previously exhibited, loaned from national and international museums including the Museo Balenciaga in Guetaria, the Museo del Traje in Madrid and other international institutions and private collections.
Balenciaga, along with Dior and Chanel, first helped elevate haute couture into haute art.
These three great designers in the first half of the 20th century singlehandedly transformed the craft of dressmaking into the creation of masterworks of couture, forever changing fashion history.
While Chanel opened the door to practical clothing that molded to a woman’s body, discarding restricting corsets and other confining undergarments to liberate women to rebel in their natural beauty in elegantly draped gowns that bespoke femininity and sophistication, and Dior pioneered the “New Look” with voluptuous designs that generated shapes and silhouettes that made women resemble delicate flowers, employing rich lavish amounts of fabric lined with percale, boned, bustier-style bodices, hip padding and wasp-waisted corsets to make his dresses flare out from the waist and accentuate his model’s curvaceous form, Balenciaga was known for his uncompromising attention tp detail in fabric, cut and shape, earning him a reputation as the first architect of couture.
Both Chanel and Dior looked to Balenciaga – who they considered their mentor and the master of modern fashion art – for inspiration and guidance as they helped transform the mundane world of practical clothing design to elevated haute wearable art.