Monday, March 28, 2011

Bravo Balenciaga!

The dazzling Cristobal Balenciaga exhibit opens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco this week.

I’m inviting you to come with me to the grand opening gala (see exclusive pictures of Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Marissa Mayer, Maria Belo, Vanessa and Billy Getty, Gwyneth Paltrow and all their glam pals and entourages). Very insider.

I’ll show you swoon-inducing classic fashion images of highlights of this superb show, curated by the great Hamish Bowles.

Pour a glass of wine, put on your Balenciaga cocktail hat, and join me for a special preview and party pix, exclusive to THE STYLE SALONISTE.

Cocktail hat of ivory silk satin, 1953. Originally published in Vogue, October 15, 1953. Photo: John Rawlings.

Kiss! Kiss! Darling!

It was the Balenciaga exhibit’s elegant opening gala last Thursday night at the de Young.

In the crush: Anna Wintour, Gwyneth Paltrow, Google VP Marissa Mayer, Orlando Bloom, Balthazar Getty, Vanessa and Billy Getty, Becca Cason Thrash, Ali Pincus, Samantha Traina, Juicy Couture founders Pamela Skaist Levy and Gila Nash, Vanessa Carlton, and fabulous talents and stars and philanthropists too glamorous to mention.

Guests nibbled caviar and watched Flamenco dancers, then dashed upstairs to see the divine Balenciaga dresses.

Many of the women—Marissa Mayer and Maria Bello notably—wore vintage Balenciaga. Swellegant.

Anna Wintour in a re-edition of a 1957 Balenciaga gown. With her: John Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Hamish Bowles, guest curator, left. “I’m so impressed with the show,” said Wintour. “Hamish is so knowledgeable, so brilliant.”

Hamish Bowles, with his authentic matador cape.

Billy and Vanessa Getty. Vanessa is wearing sixties Mme. Gres gown from Decades, Los Angeles.

Denise Hale in Ralph Rucci.

Alison Pincus, co-founder of One Kings Lane, in Nina Ricci.

Gwyneth Paltrow with best friend, Kleiner Perkins partner Juliet de Baubigny, wearing Andrew Gn couture.
Maria Bello in a pink silk faille Balenciaga gown from 1950. Note her ‘restyled’ Cartier watch, leather-bound and 2011 chic.

Becca Cason Thrash flew up from Houston. The great Becca, social queen of Houston and creative locomotive behind the American Friends of the Louvre, was wearing a red silk skirt by Tom Ford for Gucci, with a Naeem Khan beaded blouse.

Google V.P. (and eighth hire) Marissa Mayer in a pale aqua silver-beaded 1957 Balenciaga gown from Decades, Los Angeles. (Thanks, Cameron Silver, Decades founder, for this insider scoop.) Google was one of the show’s patrons.

Gila Nash and Pamela Skaist-Levy, founders of Juicy Couture. Insider scoop: they were both in a tuberose scented cloud of Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower perfume. Delightfully witty and iconoclastic designers. Loved seeing them.

Doris Fisher, art and AIDS philanthropist and Gap cofounder with her grandaughter, Emma, and daughter-in-law, Randi Fisher. Randi's vintage hat, trimmed with matador-jacket bobbles, and black passementerie belt, were chosen in in homage to Balenciaga. Chicer than chic.

The Genius of Cristobal Balenciaga
'Balenciaga and Spain' at the de Young Museum features 120 fabulous gowns (think Pauline de Rothschild, Doris Duke, the Queen of Belgium) and millinery (cocktail hats, delightful) from international institutions and private collections, many never seen, and some of which have not been publicly exhibited in decades. 

Hamish Bowles, European editor at large of Vogue, serves as guest curator.

For an earlier Balenciaga exhibit I wrote about, click here. (Balenciaga, Givenchy, Venet at the Chateau de Haroue, France).

Cristobal Balenciaga. Evening ensemble of black silk gazar and wool, ca. 1951.  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Gift of Elise Haas.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Evening ensemble with dress of black zibeline and bolero of pink gazar, summer 1968.  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Eleanor Christensen de Guigne Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigne III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Day dress of black silk bengaline and velvet, winter 1947. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mrs. Eloise Heidland.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of  San Francisco.

The Balenciaga show—which presents eye-watering beading, embroidery, and exquisite woven silks, displays day dresses and ultra-simple tunics and pared-down cocktail frocks. It includes nineteen dresses, hats, and gowns from Hamish Bowles’ own couture collection.
Bowles is the European editor at large for the American edition of Vogue. He joined Vogue in 1992. Bowles is author and co-author of several books including Vogue Living: Houses, Gardens, People; Philip Treacy: “When I Met Isabella”; and Carolina Herrera: Portrait of a Fashion Icon. 

He also served as curator for the landmark exhibition Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Cocktail dress of fuchsia silk shantung and black lace with black silk satin ribbons, summer 1966. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Eleanor Christensen de Guigne Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigne III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

There are some wonderful lessons to learn as we gaze and admire and swoon over Balenciaga’s grand creations.

I love the simplicity of his silhouettes. Nothing fussed over or tragically silly. There is logic—and mad, crazy, divine femininity and flattery in everything he did.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Day suit of olive wool, winter 1962. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Eleanor Christensen de Guigne Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigne III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Suit of mustard-yellow linen, summer 1950. Collection of Hamish Bowles.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

To take away from studying Balenciaga:
Classicism rules.

Style is consistency.

I adore his custom-made fabrics—and for him the textiles dictate the shapes and lines.

Note the ultra-feminine cocktail hats. They are so flirty and silly—and make you wish for the return of cocktail hats and cocktail dresses to wear with them.

And chic obviously means no pattern! No prints at all. Nothing trendy or over-the-top or too ‘now’. And again I say—no prints, ever.

Elegance is refusal, said Diane Vreeland. Balenciaga refused.

Cristobal Balenciaga.  Studio drawing of ball gown of black tulle, silk-satin ribbons and silk fringe tassels, winter 1957.
Courtesy Balenciaga Archives.

Sketch of Balenciaga "Infanta" evening dress; from Vogue Magazine (September 15, 1939).
Carl Erickson/Conde Nast Archive; © Conde Nast.

Balenciaga aimed for a kind of fashion purity and flattery and simplicity that has influenced every fashion designer since (notably Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, John Galliano, Narciso Rodriguez and Calvin Klein).

In every fashion designer working today—Balenciaga lives.

Bravo to Balenciaga. I can’t wait to return and see the show, again and again.

Cristobal Balenciaga. Cocktail dress of rose peau de soie and black lace, winter 1948. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mrs. C. H. Russell.
Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

‘Balenciaga and Spain’
New Rizzoli book on Balenciaga:

And if you can’t attend the San Francisco exhibit, there is the supreme consolation of an exceptionally beautiful new Rizzoli book, Balenciaga and Spain. This entrancing and highly original volume documents all of the designer’s greatest gowns—and the Spanish court dress, fisherman sweaters, ecclesiastical outfits, and traditional Spanish folkloric costumes that influenced his life’s work.

The book is at once a rare insight into Balenciaga’s refined looks—and an historical survey of Spanish art, architecture, textiles, religious life, and color. Highly recommended.

Hamish Bowles produced the book, and commentary throughout is exemplary.

Cristóbal Balenciaga (circa 1952).
© Bettmann/CORBIS

All party pictures were shot by Drew Altizer, the great social photographer of San Francisco.
To acquire copies and more images visit

Special thanks and appreciation to Jami Witek.


The de Young Museum, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and located in Golden Gate Park, is the fourth most visited art museum in North America. The museum showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles, and costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa.

BALENCIAGA EXHIBIT: Through July 4, 2011.

Note: check on the museum’s website for the online Balenciaga symposium. Four Balenciaga and costume scholars speak in detail of the influences on his design and his Spanish roots.

Visit for more information.

Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 am–5:15 pm
Friday: 9:30 am–8:45 pm
Closed on Monday


vicki archer said...

Thank you for this brilliant look at the exhibition wonderful to see the attendees as well as to hear about the show. I am a fan...xv

Unknown said...

Fabulous! How nice to see the chic guests and learn about them. Wonderful post!

Norine said...


Philip Bewley said...

Loved the post. An exciting exhibition for San Francisco!

Love Your Homes said...

Hi Diane,

a truly inspiring essai, my Rizzoli collection will increase again.

Only passion creates perfection, have to honor CB for not touching prints. There is nothing as lovely a crisp embroidered silk....

Still I must admit I fancy editor Bowles pink cape and the way he wears it!

We just turned the clocks for summertime over here.

My best to you,

Belle de Ville said...

I might have to make a trip to San Francisco just to see this show!

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Diane, thank you for giving a glimpse of this show- I look forward to the book. the photographs are fantastic! pgt

The Swan said...

The Show was superb...and

Mrs. Blandings said...

I should be hitchhiking there!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

The moment this story went out live---the 'keyboard' lit up, as it were. I've had great comments on my Facebook post/link as well.
I'm delighted you loved this scoop...all pictures were selected just for your pleasure and have not been published anywhere yet. Drew Altizer is the genius photographer, assisted by Jami Witek.
So chic: just look at the divine Marissa Mayer (GOOGLE) and Ali Pincus (ONE KINGS LANE)--both Internet entrepreneurs and brilliant young women. And philanthropist/fashion company founder Doris Fisher. It was such a great night, and a celebration of accomplished women and men. Loved every moment. Do be sure to dash to see this show..closing July 4.
see you there!
cheers, DIANE

The Swan said...

I do recall seeing prints by Balenciaga as I own quite a few in Silk and Wool...Carnations and Roses were QUITE his favorite, even ...I even have one that is very much like Monets' Waterlilies in Blues and Greens.

Mona Bismarck owned a few as well as Claudia de Heard Osborne, not too mention Bunny Mellon and Jayne Wrightsman...they are rather RARE.

Joy Bianchi's Balenciaga was beautiful...and very REAL, not a redux.

shiree segerstrom said...

Bravo Jami, Drew, and Diane. Thank you for a glimpse into Balenciaga at the DeYoung. Shiree'

peggy braswell said...

Cheers Diane, loved seeing your images, almost like being there. Thank you so much

The Peak of Chic said...

The fuchsia silk shantung dress is sublime! I hope to venture out there to see the show; I will let you know. said...

With the world falling apart it is indeed a pleasure to see your post and the beauty among all the pain that is in the air these days...
Love the color he used and the draping and cutting...
It takes great knowledge to make garments of this quality.....
I love your blog Diane!!!!!


Square With Flair said...

It sounds like an exciting opening.

I admire Balenciaga greatly and you are right, that so often his incredible fabrics dictated the often very simple styling. I’ve examined a number of vintage Balenciagas, and there is often minimal seaming.

I also have seen a number of pieces that are done in print or patterned fabric. I’ve seen 60s style big daisies, roses, and also his carnations which I believe are the national flower of Spain. His prints are usually bold or graphic, he didn’t do granny or romantic. We do tend to recall his work in solid colour fabrics because in those designs, the proportion, balance, and superb cutting are most evident. People also remember the great evening and wedding gowns he did, but his daywear, suits and coats were also outstanding. I recently wrote an article about a fantastic circa 1965 day coat he did:

I commend the work of Hamish Bowles; he understands the historic, cultural and aesthetic significance of fashion, rather than as ephemeral trends that are to be quickly consumed and then left to oblivion.

Terrific post. Must have been a rarefied evening.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-- I love the response 'It is almost as good as being there'. I always want to take you along with me. I want you to feel as if we went there together. An intensely felt experience.
Prints! This is so fascinating. I have now seen 4 recent Balenciaga retrospectives--at Haroue, in New York, in San Francisco, and in Paris--and at none of them did Balenciaga have any printed fabrics. Embroidered, yes, definitley, but I cannot recall any prints. There are none in the current show--all pure shapes and silhouettes and color. This is so interesting that two readers say they have seen he must have done them. I feel that (as in decoration of houses) prints are a distraction and can take away from other great design concepts in couture. But it sounds like for a summer dress, perhaps,he would do a print.
I'm so thrilled at the great response here and on Facebook to this report. I hope you all get a chance to see this show--or at least to get the book.
cheers to all, DIANE

A Super Dilettante said...

Dear Diane, I love seeing Hamish Bowles in his bright splendour. Diana Veerland once said there are no other woman exist in the room if you are wearing Balenciaga. You are the only woman in the room...something like that!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hello, Super Dilettante-

Always a pleasure to hear from you.
Last summer I had the great pleasure to see a special collection of privately owned (Givenchy himself) Balenciaga gowns.
Alone in the chateau rooms where they were presented (I wrote about them...check my blog archive) I was able to stand inches from the embroideries and jewel embellishments and details. Balenciaga: such authority, such beauty. Any women wearing his couture would be perfection, indeed. But...I must say, women wearing Balenciaga gowns at the de Young gala last week looked gowns from 50s and 60s...still looking totally current.
cheers and happy days, DIANE

The Swan said...

PRINTS: Here is the definition of what I have. CHINE' - the pattern is dyed onto each individual thread on the Warp in the full Third dimension. If you hung each Warp thread without the Weft, you would see the pattern. So yes, this is a dyed pattern/print dyed thru the IKAT.

These are what I own, but I do know from a great source to Museum Collections, that there are Prints which are only stamped onto one side, like Fortuny more abstract patterns. But as he was a Constructionist, patterns/prints were not his first choice, therefore they are RARER.

You have been a great PRISM for Information to RADIATE thru.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Dear Swan-

This is most fascinating. Balenciaga worked with all the top of the top fabric houses to create the rather stiff (gazar, for example) and fluid (cashmere) textiles he loved. But rarely prints.
Chine-(acute accent on e) is not actually a 'print' but is ikat-inspired. The pattern, if any, is created by the warp and woof, and is not applied.
You are right--any pattern or texture is rare. He was such a purist, so devoted to line and silhouette, that nothing distracted, not even buttons. Note that jewelry is not a major player in his style! His clients had superb jewels (think Mona Bismarck) but it appears he discouraged major diamond wearing with his fashions. 'It' bags--no! Swan--loved your information.
cheers, DIANE

George Brazil said...

Another amazing post, Diane!

And Vanessa Getty in Mme. Gres no less. She looks amazing.

I suggest a post about Mme. Gres very soon.

Jamie Herzlinger said...

BRAVO! Your post, this particular post is stunning and so insanely gorgoeus!
The photos along with the commentary makes one feel as if they are on a brillinaly guided tour!
I can't thank you enough!
Bon weekend!
Jamie Herzlinger

The Paper Bag Princess said...

Maria Bello's Haute Couture Balenciaga gown was on loan to her from Elizabeth Mason's private vintage couture collection at The Paper Bag Princess, Beverly Hills.
It was cream silk and black handmade Spanish lace, circa 1950s.
Please see
Elizabeth has been dressing Maria for over a decade in both vintage couture, as well as selections from Elizabeth Mason Couture.