NBC 5 and the Kimbell Art Museum invites you to experience Balenciaga in Black, an exhibition of more than 100 pieces from the collections of Galliera and the archives of the Maison Balenciaga, on view now through January 6, 2019 at the Kimbell Art Museum. The carefully selected costumes and accessories, all made by hand in the haute-couture ateliers of this fashion genius, will share one major feature: they are all black.
Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895–1972) is often called “the couturier’s couturier”—the fashion designer most revered by other fashion designers. Born in a Basque fishing village, Balenciaga learned the sewing trade from his mother, eventually moving to Madrid and then to Paris as his fame grew. From his first runway collection, in 1937, to the closure of his Paris salon, in 1968, his clients numbered among the most influential trendsetters of the day.
Black, because Balenciaga’s sources of inspiration, the spiritual underpinnings of his work, were the folklore and traditions of his Spanish childhood. Black, because these garments reveal in their astonishing silhouettes the imaginative yet simple taste of this extraordinarily skillful tailor who invented the barrel line (1947), the balloon (1950), the semi-fitted suit (1951), the tunic dress (1955) and the sack dress (1957). Black, finally, to evoke the almost monastic asceticism of the master, of whom Christian Dior once said that “clothes were his religion.” For Balenciaga, black was more than a color or even a non-color; he saw it as a vibrant matter, by turns opaque or transparent, matte or shiny—a dazzling interplay of light, showcased as much through the luxurious quality of the fabrics as through the apparent simplicity of a garment’s cut.
As conceived by Véronique Belloir, director of the haute-couture collections of the Palais Galleria, the exhibition addresses multiple topics within this fascinating theme. The sections Sketch and Construction and Archival Documents explore the first stages of Balenciaga’s process. The couturier’s careful working methods are illustrated through examples of his drawings—which include penciled notes on construction, fabric direction and color—as well as through his “toiles,” three-dimensional patterns consisting of fabric draped onto a dress form and manipulated to achieve perfection. Traditionally created in an ecru-colored muslin, Balenciaga’s toiles were black, annotated with markings and handwritten notes that defined the structure and construction of the garments. Also showcased are historic fashion photographs of models wearing completed garments.
Balenciaga was an expert in cutting fabric, having trained as a tailor and worked as head of the ladies’ tailoring department in the Au Louvre department stores in San Sebastián. Structured Volumes demonstrates Balenciaga’s assiduous attention to detail in defining a piece’s contours and shape, as seen in coats and structured suits that hug the figure and in his meticulous construction of sleeves and shoulder lines, which impart balance to his garments.
Eventually, Balenciaga moved towards a deconstruction of these more traditional forms and the elaboration of increasingly abstract figures. His choice of black for these creations emphasized their geometry, and his use of gazar and zagar—fabrics specially developed for him by the Swiss textile firm Abraham—inspired him to yet more abstraction, like the cone-shaped dress pinched in at the shoulders and held up by nothing more than two jeweled straps or the tall column ending in a draped hood, both featured in Abstract Volumes. For Balenciaga, the weight, thickness, hang and feel of a fabric would determine how he would cut, mold or drape it. Draped Black explores how the designer manipulated different black fabric textures—not just feather-light, unpredictable gazar and zagar, but also soft, flowing crêpe or crumpled taffeta—to accentuate the play of shadows, emphasize a shape or create dramatic volume in a dress or cape.
The duality of light and shadow is a fundamental aspect of artistic expression in Spain. Inspired by this tradition, Balenciaga arranged elements of his garments to juxtapose the opposition between the two essential qualities of black—“brilliant black,” the black of elegance and ceremony, and “matte black,” the color of darkness and mourning, as seen in the section Contrasting Black. The couturier showcased the brilliance of black through shiny satin ribbons and silky taffeta, but also through embroidered black beads and sequins that sparkled in the light. Black and Sheen features garments lavishly adorned with black pearls, lamé, sequins and paillettes. For the designer, these embroideries were more than an ornament: they were the very essence, the outer skin of the dress.
Balenciaga was particularly fond of the transparency of black lace, which held a special place in his art, as it embodied the very soul of Spanish piety and folklore. Black and Transparency explores how Balenciaga used lace in very particular ways—crumpling or gathering it—so that its darkness magnified the graphic effects of pleats and shredded areas.
Although the various mutations of black offered Balenciaga an infinite range of tones, the final theme of the exhibition, Black and Colors, examines how the couturier would sometimes respond to black’s austerity with accents of color. Pink, one of Balenciaga’s signature hues, could provide a delicate or vibrant contrast with black. Whether the designer chose a bold or a pale pink was dictated by the materials he was using. Balenciaga also appreciated the opposition of black and white, which evoked for him both the immaculate collars of bourgeois dress and the luxurious lace ruffs of Spanish monarchs. In his garments, these two tendencies manifested in the uniform, matte white of defined cuffs and the quivering, voluminous white of fur collars and feather edges. The exhibition concludes with an example of the latter—a dramatic black velvet evening gown adorned with a cascade of white and black ermine tails, one of four supplemental loans from the Texas Fashion Collection at the University of North Texas in Denton.
From the never-before-seen black prototypes to the most abstract forms from his later collections, Balenciaga’s use of infinite shades of black emphasizes the essential shapes, dense volumes and astonishing silhouettes of his unique creations. His timeless and expertly executed clothes, with impeccably composed adornments of lace, embroidery, silk, satin, fringes, beads and sequins, continue to inspire modern fashion.
Admission to Balenciaga in Black is $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, $14 for ages 6–11, and free for children under 6 and Kimbell Members. Admission is half-price all day on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is always FREE to view the Museum’s permanent collection.
For more information, visit www.kimbellart.org.
Balenciaga in Black
Now – January 6, 2019
Kimbell Art Museum
3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Kimbell Art Museum
The Kimbell Art Museum, owned and operated by the Kimbell Art Foundation, is internationally renowned for both its collections and its architecture. The Kimbell's collections range in period from antiquity to the 20th century and include European masterpieces by artists such as Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Poussin, Velázquez, Monet, Picasso and Matisse; important collections of Egyptian and classical antiquities; and the art of Asia, Africa and the Ancient Americas.
The Museum's 1972 building, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, is widely regarded as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the modern era. A second building, designed by world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, opened in 2013 and now provides space for special exhibitions, dedicated classrooms and a 289-seat auditorium with excellent acoustics for music.
Balenciaga in Black was conceived and curated by Olivier Saillard, former director of the Palais Galliera, and Véronique Belloir, director of the haute-couture collections of the Palais Galleria. It is organized at the Kimbell Art Museum by Jennifer Casler Price, curator of Asian and non-Western art and by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.