Balenciaga: The Fashion World’s Hockney

Did Spain produce the fashion world’s Hockney? The V&A hopes to find out for us

Now you may think this is quite a big assumption, to think of Cristóbal Balenciaga as comparable to David Hockney, the two men occupying different fields of artistry with no evident mutuality linking the two.

Nonetheless, both Balenciaga and Hockney possessed an innovative eye which revolutionised artistry, whether for the female form, or the blank canvas. Balenciaga himself is said to be one of the most influential designers to come out of the 20th century, completely transforming modern fashion and the way future designers perceived the female body as a self-expressing entity.

Alberta Tiburzi in 'envelope' dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Photograph by Hiro Wakabayashi for Harper's Bazaar, June 1967. © Hiro 1967
Alberta Tiburzi in ‘envelope’ dress by Cristóbal Balenciaga. Photograph by Hiro Wakabayashi for Harper’s Bazaar, June 1967. © Hiro 1967


What struck me most about Balenciaga’s work was the fact his craftsmanship derived, not from other designers’ work, but from the very materials and textiles he employed. They were his initial starting point, his aid, and his inspiration, and this is what propelled him forward, extending his legacy to this very day.

From 1951 onwards, he completely recaptured the female silhouette in pieces such as the one pictured here, currently on display at the V&A. He was tactful in the materials he brought on board, by broadening the shoulders and concealing the model’s curves, making his work wholeheartedly his own. This silk gazar dress illustrates parallels with architectural work, as shown by the rigid construction of the dress with its bold sleeves and hems. The stiffness of such a fabric would have inevitably initiated Balenciaga to produce such a distinct and fresh piece.






This boldness captured in Balenciaga’s work; does it remind you of anyone? David Hockney perhaps? Hockney is renowned globally for the uninhibited vibrancy of his artwork, with this fact now linking him with Balenciaga, another artist of a different field to come out of the 1960s.

The pop art movement significant of the mid-20th century was key in establishing Hockney as a pioneering artist, not that dissimilar from Balenciaga. The pair showed their audiences that self-expression can not just be an individual endeavour, but also a shared experience. The artist both imprinted his personal creativity onto his pieces, whilst simultaneously ensuring his work was accessible to the common man (or woman in Balenciaga’s case).

Balenciaga’s influence rippled through the work of designers that came after him, as well as the ones that continue to emerge nowadays. He has taught countless artists that fashion is not merely there to emphasise bodily “assets”, or deem us attractive for the opposite, or desired sex. Fashion is an art form, presenting endless possibilities for its artist and its wearer.

Can we call Balenciaga the hidden Hockney of the fashion world now? I think so.

If you would like to learn more about the pop art movement which Hockney was a major player in, click here.

‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ runs at the V&A until 18 February 2018; tickets £12 for adults and £10 for students. Link here.

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