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15 Sep

Balenciaga Shines a Highlight on Artfully Decaying Dresses

TIME PASSAGES: Resting on artfully rolled tissue, the dresses — some torn, some partially decomposed, some unfinished, lots of them soiled — dropped at mind patients on hospital beds, or Sir John Everett’s painting “Ophelia.”

The exhibition at Kering’s Paris headquarters showcases 39 original Cristóbal Balenciaga garments dating from 1939 to 1968, some recently acquired, awaiting restoration.

Mounted by Balenciaga consistent with creative director Demna’s vision, the showcase was conceived for European Heritage Days on Saturday and Sunday, when historic buildings and monuments across the continent open their doors to the general public.

Available might be two textile conservators: one girding floral embroideries with the best silk thread; one other sewing wadding over hangers to assist delicate garments maintain their shape and ease fabric stress.

The delicate vintage garments lie flat on tissue paper.

© Eric Sander

In a link to the current, an enormous screen broadcasts Balenciaga’s fall 2022 couture show by Demna, most of the models sporting futuristic face shields. Still, visitors can draw a direct line of inspiration from the green gown worn by Bella Hadid on the runway and a gently faded 1959 Amphora style stood in a glass case.

Demna often gives recent Balenciaga designs a worn aspect, which reminds the wearer of the effect of time on garments, and themselves.

The French house’s archive and heritage department has amassed greater than 900 original pieces by Cristóbal Balenciaga, hailed as a master of couture prized for his architectural shapes.

Among the many vintage items on display are an austere pink gown whose bottom third is riddled with stains and rips, and jackets bearing dense mother-of-pearl floral embroideries and tears on the shoulder.

Some are shown partially disassembled to spotlight their intricate constructions. Conservators employ a variety of pH-neutral materials to slow the aging process and boost faded fabrics, in line with Balenciaga.

Let’s hope the fragility of the subject material doesn’t prevent the “Des robes, au-delà du temps” exhibition, or “Dresses, Beyond Time” in English, from traveling to other venues.

Visitors to Kering headquarters this weekend may also absorb an exhibition of works from the Pinault Collection by Belgian artist Edith Dekyndt, whose work employs many fabrics which can be deliberately decayed or decaying. Considered one of her white “paintings” is impregnated with wine tartrates that leach moisture from the air after which “bleeds” down the wall.

The Balenciaga exhibition at Kering headquarters in Paris.

© Eric Sander

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