Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Anatomy of a Masterpiece: Cristóbal Balenciaga

Something a bit different: I'd like to spend the next few days discussing the suit above, a masterwork by Cristóbal Balenciaga. A quick note on the image itself: it's been attributed on the web as a shot for Vogue--whether American, British, or French is unclear. It looks like early Irving Penn, again an uncertain provenance. The suit almost certainly dates to 1950. I hope to provide more details over the course of the next few days.

In the meantime, today's focus is on the most extraordinary aspect of the silhouette: the wasp waist. This was achieved with disciplined corsetry and padding added to the lower portion of the jacket to emphasize the curve of the hips. The detail was originated by Christian Dior as part of his famed "New Look" of 1947. "I wanted to employ a different technique in fashioning my clothes," Dior said, ". . . I wanted them to be constructed like buildings."

Balenciaga adopted the silhouette and added a detail which is a subtle feat of tailoring: a front panel that effectively converted a single-breasted jacket from the waist up into a double-breasted one below.

Nicolas Ghesquiere, now fashion director at the house, took this silhouette as inspiration for his Spring/Summer '08 line, here modeled by Natalia Vodianova.

Will today's image-stricken women ever embrace a mode that emphasizes the curves of the hips? I very much hope so--minus the corset, of course--for what a voluptuous look this is.


  1. I saw the Balenciaga exhibit at the Meadows Museum in Dallas a couple of years ago, and it was just breathtaking. To be able to look upon his genius both in the form of the actual garments as well as sketches, it was something I'll never forget.



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