Black on Black with Cristobal Balenciaga

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The Musée Bourdelle is a treasure grove of sculptures by the French artist Antoine Bourdelle (1861‑1929) and a quite oasis of greenery in Paris. Now its chic quotient has been increased with a temporary exhibition of creations by the Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga (1865‑1972).

“Balenciaga, l'oeuvre au noir” looks at the importance of the colour black in Balenciaga’s creations, with about 60 pieces from the Palais Galliera collections and the archives of Maison Balenciaga amidst Bourdelle’s artwork.

With its monastic connotations, black was the spiritual underpinning of Balenciaga’s couture work, inspired by traditions of his Spanish childhood Be it in silk taffeta, decorated with jet beads, satin ribbons or edged with fringes, each cocktail dress and evening gown is a masterpiece that demonstrates the tailoring skills of the grand couturier who created new silhouettes like the barrel line (1947), the tunic dress (1955), and the sack dress (1957).

Coco Chanel once said of him, “Only he is capable of cutting a fabric, to assemble it, to sew it by hand; the others are mere designers,” while Christian Dior said, “Clothes were his religion.”

Divided along three main themes — Silhouette & Volumes, Black & Light, and Blacks & Colours — the exhibition underlines how Balenciaga saw black as vibrant, whether partially transparent or opaque, shiny or matt.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of his couture house and to celebrate the designer’s work, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London will also open an exhibition, “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion,” in May.