Thursday, August 6, 2009

Anatomy of a Masterpiece III: The Headdress

For master couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, the hat was just that. His adornments for the head were as meticulously conceived and executed as the wraps around the rest of the body. Each of his hats, assembled on the premises of his atelier by Mme Janine or Hélène, was designed to complement a specific outfit, so that the entirety of the look became a mobile sculpture.

Among his most dramatic hats was this wingspan creation of 1948. (John Galliano liked it so much he paid homage in Dior's Fall 2009 Couture line.)

Less dramatic, indeed rather introspective, is the velvet beret Balenciaga used to top off the suit below, from 1950. Perhaps he felt its soft folds and rather frivolous tassel provided a necessary antidote to the strict lines of the suit underneath.

It's possible, too, that his own self-image as an artist of cloth was coming to the fore--this style of beret is less akin to those worn by Balenciaga's Basque countrymen as that worn by another quiet genius, Rembrandt, in numerous self-portraits painted in his chilly northern studio.

(photograph top: Clifford Coffin for American Vogue, 1 April 1948. Photo of Dior Couture Autumn 2009 by Monica Feuidi/ Balenciaga suit photograph: photographer unknown, for Vogue, 1950. Rembrandt self-portrait 1634, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence)

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