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The Galliera Museum’s extra-mural programme brings together the works of two distinctive designers, each visionaries of his own generation. The oeuvre of Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) is shown alongside Rei Kawakubo’s evocative Spring Summer 2012 collection to mark the fortieth year anniversary of the former’s death. Like the black and white duality of this exhibition, pitting Balenciaga’s black and dark Spanish folklore versus Rei Kawakubo’s White drama, the Comme des Garçons collection is presented as a foil that illuminates the brilliance of this legendary designer and frames it in a modern context.

With the support of Maison Balenciaga, this tribute comprises more than seventy costumes and some 40 haute couture pieces that best represent the designer, many of which were generously donated to the museum by his family. The satin Torero costumes, velvet boleros and Spanish capes – among photographs, sketches and books of art – speak a lot of Balenciaga’s keen interest in his own heritage as it does of his curiosity with contemporary culture that helped him earn the title Couturier of couturiers, Rei Kawakubo’s White drama in turn expands on that passionate Spanish 'duende' to explore romanticism of a more universal metaphysical kind, taking visitors through ‘life’s big events: birth, marriage, death and transcendence’. Imagery of budding flowers, hats reminiscent of Holy Week processions in Seville and obi-bow belts create a larger-than-life premise that allows the viewers to romance the idea of life, an approach that is very much rooted in Japanese philosophy of ‘Wabi Sabi’, drawing Rei Kawakubo back to her ethnic heritage just like Balenciaga’s works reveal of him.

This poignant exhibition curated by Olivier Saillard, Director of the Galliera Museum, gives the visitors the chance to revisit Balenciaga’s famous works and to know a little better the man whose legacy markedly changed the way women dress and the way we think about fashion. The Cristóbal Balenciaga – Comme des Garçons exhibition runs till 7 October 2012 at Les Docks - Cité de la Mode et du Design.

Words
Nabil Aliffi

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