Known as ‘The Master’ of haute couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895 – 1972) was one of the most innovative and influential fashion designers of the 20th century. His exquisite craftsmanship and pioneering use of fabrics revolutionized the female silhouette, setting the tone for modern fashion.
The exhibition “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, examines the work and legacy of the influential Spanish couturier with over 100 pieces crafted by ‘the master’ of couture himself, his protégées and contemporary fashion designers working in the same innovative tradition.


The V&A has the largest collection of Balenciaga in the UK, initiated in the 1970s by the photographer Cecil Beaton, Balenciaga’s longstanding friend. The collection includes examples of revolutionary shapes from the designer’s golden age, the 1950s and 60s, such as the tunic, sack, baby doll, and shift dresses – all of which remain style staples today. Moreover, the exhibition features a display of 20 original Balenciaga amazing hats, including the spiral design from 1962.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at V&A May 2017
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at V&A

X-ray photograph of silk taffeta evening dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1955, Paris, France. X-ray by Nick Veasey, 2016. © Nick Veasey.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at V&A

Silk taffeta evening dress, Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1955, Paris, France. Museum no. T.427-1967. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Shaping Fashion is divided into three sections, covering the milieu, making and legacy of Balenciaga’s designs. The heart of this exhibition, however, is the section dedicated to the making of the works where you can see the Balenciaga Archive in Paris. The displays show historic pieces alongside technical drawings, design sketches, fabric swatches and reference photographs taken by the house of each piece worn by its fitting model.

The most innovative element of this exhibition is undoubtedly the usage of X Rays. The V&A team worked with x-ray artist Nick Veasey in order to look beneath the surface of Balenciaga’s iconic dresses and hats. “We’d never been able to explain what the ties at the hem of our fuchsia ballgown did. When looking at the x-rays students suggested that perhaps these tied around the legs. We tried it on the mannequin and suddenly it all made sense, and created this harem-pant look at the front with a 19th-century bustle in the back”, says Veasey.

Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion
From 27th May 2017 – 18th February 2018
V&A London