A First Look at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Major Balenciaga Exhibition, Through the Eyes of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn


A full century ago, the Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga opened a boutique in San Sebastián that would eventually turn into one of fashion’s most storied houses: his namesake label, Balenciaga, which officially came to be after two decades of dressing Spanish royals, when he finally ditched Basque country for Paris. Armed with tunics, bubble skirts, baby doll dresses, and other shapes a world apart from the New Look, the designer quickly stood out from contemporaries like Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, hitting his stride midcentury just in time for his creations to be captured by legendary photographers like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. In May, London’s V&A museum is taking a look back at those glory days with “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion,” an exhibition that makes full use of its Balenciaga collection, which happens to be the largest in the U.K. (That’s thanks in large part to one Cecil Beaton, one of the designer’s closest friends.) Still, the institution has made room for the present in there, too: also featured is the work of Balenciaga’s former protégés like Andrè Courrèges, as well as current successors like Demna Gvasalia, who’ve stayed true to his roots in their own, Bernie-loving ways.

© Hiro 1967

Alberta Tiburzi in “envelope” dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Harper’s Bazaar, June 1967.

© Henri Cartier-Bresson, Magnum Photos

Cristóbal Balenciaga at work, Paris, 1968. Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Elise Daniels with street performers, suit by Balenciaga, Le Marais, Paris, 1948. Photo by Richard Avedon.

© The Richard Avedon Foundation
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

Dovima with Sacha, cloche and suit by Balenciaga, Café des Deux Magots, Paris, 1955. Photo by Richard Avedon.