Review: Bendigo Art Gallery’s Balenciaga exhibition celebrates an icon of the fashion world

Bendigo Art Gallery undoubtedly has another well-dressed hit on its hands. Hot on the heels of the hugely successful Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits exhibition, the gallery is revisiting fashion with a celebration of famed Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Recent fashion exhibitions at Bendigo Art Gallery have been hugely popular and a tourism boon for the historic Goldfields city in regional Victoria. The blockbuster exhibitions dedicated to the wardrobes of Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe each drew close to 150,000 visitors, while the 2018 exhibition on Finnish design house Marimekko was also popular. Balenciaga will be no exception.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion features garments crafted by Balenciaga from the 1950s and 1960s, a range of contemporary pieces inspired by his legacy, and archive sketches, patterns, photographs, fabric samples and catwalk footage.

Bendigo Balenciaga exhibition review
Image courtesy of Bendigo Art Gallery

The latest exhibition has been produced by London’s renowned Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s the fourth collaboration between the V&A and Bendigo. It was first curated in 2017 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the opening of Balenciaga first boutique in San Sebastián, Spain. The exhibition has toured to Canada and Sweden before coming to Australia, where it’s exclusive to Bendigo Art Gallery. If you want to see it, you need to go to Bendigo!

Related: Culture, tradition and unique dining experiences – Bendigo has it all

The exhibition consists of two parts. The first explores Balenciaga’s early life and influences, his craftmanship, his workrooms and clientele. Balenciaga, who was born in the Basque region of Spain in 1895, was a tailor, a dress maker and a couturier all in one – and a famously pedantic perfectionist. To his contemporaries – including fashion legends Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy – he was known simply as ‘The Master.’

Bendigo Balenciaga exhibition review

The young Cristóbal was introduced to fashion by his mother, who was herself a seamstress. At 12 he was apprenticed to a tailor. Just 10 years later, he opened his first fashion house in the Spanish resort town of San Sebastián. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he moved to Paris, opening his famed fashion house on the trés chic Avenue Georges V, where he remained for the rest of his 50-year career.

Exhibition highlights include garments crafted by Balenciaga from the 1950s and 1960s – the period when he dressed some of world’s most famous women, including Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly. On display are ensembles made for Hollywood actress Ava Gardner and dresses and hats belonging to 1960s socialite and fashionista Gloria Guinness.

Balenciaga is famous for revolutionising the shape of fashion and making haute couture accessible to those without the classic hourglass figure. He is credited with the invention of the sack, tunic, shift and baby doll dresses, all of which remain fashion staples today. The exhibition features samples of each of these ground-breaking designs.

Bendigo Balenciaga exhibition review
Image courtesy of Bendigo Art Gallery

Balenciaga’s lasting legacy can be seen in the second part of the exhibition, which examines his influence on the work of more than 30 fashion designers over the last 50 years. The exhibition includes pieces by Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Yves St Laurent and Issey Miyake among others. A highlight is the ‘snake dress’ creation of Iris Van Herpen for Icelandic singer Björk.

Even if you don’t have much knowledge of or interest in fashion, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion will give you the opportunity to see some truly beautiful garments, made out of gorgeous fabrics and often covered in jewels or intricate embroidery. Visually, the exhibition is a delight.

Bendigo Balenciaga exhibition review
Image courtesy of The Richard Avedon Foundation

If that’s not enough to tempt you to Bendigo, the gallery has a second exhibition running concurrently with Balenciaga. Desert Lines: Batik from Central Australia features around 60 pieces of the batik work of central desert Indigenous communities.

Bendigo Art Gallery, one of Australia’s oldest and largest regional art galleries, also holds an enviable permanent collection featuring important Australian works of art from the 1850s to today, all housed in stunning Victorian and Edwardian architecture.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is on now until 10 November 2019. Desert Lines runs until 17 November.

Bendigo Balenciaga exhibition review
Image courtesy of Bendigo Art Gallery

Need a place to stay?

Choice Hotels has three fabulous properties to choose from in Bendigo. Located by the lake is the fabulously contemporary Quality Hotel Lakeside. The Quality Inn Colonial is another conveniently located property on the approach into town from Melbourne.

About the writer

Louise Reynolds is a Melbourne-based freelance travel writer. Louise made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world – and has so far visited around 30 countries spread across five continents. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand.

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