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On July 7th, 2021, Balenciaga presented Couture for the first time since 1967, when founder Cristóbal Balenciaga left the fashion industry. Balenciaga Couture Winter 21 is officially the House’s 50th Couture collection—and artistic director Demna Gvasalia’s first.

The collection is a mix of men’s and women’s made-to-measure pieces meticulously crafted using today’s most sophisticated techniques. Paying tribute to Balenciaga’s revered Couture history, garments architecturally transform the body and defer to the art of savoir-faire while taking an interest in modern dressing.

Contemporary and signature silhouettes are reinterpreted by way of expert construction and state-of-the-art technology, meeting the highest standards of craftsmanship, in collaboration with Couture’s eminent ateliers and manufacturers. These include milliner Philip Treacy, embroidery houses Atelier Jean-Pierre Ollier, Maison Lesage, Maison Lemarié and Atelier Montex; and fabric houses Dormeuil, Jakob Schlaepfer, Taroni and Forster Rohner amongst others.

In homage, the initials C.B. are hand-embroidered on details that speak to Cristóbal Balenciaga’s personal style, like silk ties, poplin shirts, and leather gloves. Tailoring in fresco, mohair, cashmere, and barathea wool is inspired by what he himself wore, made in collaboration with his preferred tailor, Huntsman.

Textiles range from fine vicuña, vintage wools, satins, and silks to utilitarian technical fabrics, developing an updated way to wear bespoke clothing. Tops and jackets are made with complex corsetry or reinforced undergirding, while handembellished evening attire becomes voluminous using minimal, strategic seams or hand-molded padding. In every item, a delicate balance of structural support and purposeful draping is made to be almost imperceptible.

Materiality is questioned by way of unexpected compositions: silks stiffened are with metallic thread and animalesque qualities are synthesized using illusory elements. In the place of fur or feathers, realistic textures are simulated with densely embroidered loose thread and surface-treated cut-outs. Instead of crocodile, tilelike patches are mapped with a computer program and pieced together by hand, the entire process taking thousands of hours. A cable-knit sweater is interpreted using aluminum chain. A glittering dress is made with intricately Swarovskistoned mesh.

Informal concepts are transposed into more glamorous arenas, such as stoles and wrap coats made to resemble terrycloth bathrobes in micro-knifed leather, while themes of casual dressing are recontextualized in tailored tracksuits and hoodies that are lined with cashmere and built to sit away from the body via signature cocoon or swing-back seams. Japanese denim is woven on antique looms and washed with indigo.

Several looks directly reference iconic Balenciaga Couture designs: a dress in twisted lace and tulle; opera gloves and parkas; a polka-dot pattern handprinted on silk chiffon spot for spot to match the original; and decorative embroidery in shantung silk guipure, metallic silk jacquard, beading, and laid sequins. A floral embroidered gown is inspired by an archival piece originally made for Jacqueline Kennedy. A veiled bridal look—the traditional Couture finale—is a take on one of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s last designs, presented 54 years ago but appearing to exist outside of time.

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