Last December, as Christmas was approaching, I found myself performing one of the most difficult tasks I could think of - staring at my amazon wish list and trying to choose a few books as a present to myself. At some point I realised that it would be the perfect moment to start a Balenciaga collection, but then, since there were other titles calling my name, decided to postpone the purchase until 2015... To feel better, I promised myself to buy a fashion tome every month and make 2015 the year of Balenciaga.
Well, I failed miserable on every single level. Christmas wasn't even here yet, and I was already receiving a truck load of beautiful volumes... Followed by an impromptu stop at a small book shop that I've always favoured for their collection of fashion-related editions. It was my idea of a "kid in a sweet shop", the overwhelmingly wonderful sensation of eternal happiness triggered by the very smell of books and discovering a treasure trove of titles, accompanied by intense heart ache for I could only pick a few to take home with me.
I stood there, Prada in one hand, Balenciaga - the other, the torture of breaking the bond with one of them... Since I was going through the Prada motion at the time, the Balenciaga went back on the shelf. "Are you sure?" - my husband asked me. "No, not really - I want both of them, but it would be too much..." - I answered thinking of the Everest I already assembled at home.
There were still a few days to go before Christmas when my husband returned with a simple white carrier bag... Inside was Balenciaga Paris from the little shop. The rules and sensibilities were forgotten for the love of books.
And you know, I am glad it all happened this way. Not only the book itself turned out to be a lucky find, but the information contained on those pages was absolutely precious.
Frankly, I think every fashion house of any importance should produce a book like Balenciaga Paris. Not even so much for the imagery, but for the facts documenting the legacy of a company, its designers and collections.
Balenciaga Paris, assembled and written by Pamela Golbin, curator at the Musee de la Mode at du Textile, is not the longest novel-like read as such, but every part of the story based on the house archives is precise and incredibly informative. It tells you everything you need to know about Cristobal Balenciaga himself. It takes you behind the scenes of his Parisian house at 10 Avenue George V, department by department, almost hour by hour, enhancing the experience through documents, full list of founders and staff, floor plans, daily schedule and etiquette.
Then comes the most wonderful chapter that covers EVERY SINGLE Balenciaga collections - from the technical changes and challenges (the sketches, number of silhouettes, fabrics and construction) to the reviews, editors' stories and iconic fashion editorials photographed by Avedon and Penn. While many of the photos are well-known, the clippings are very unique to the book and, unless you are very lucky to have an access to vintage fashion magazines and news papers, are impossible to get hold of.
The other part of the book is dedicated to the Ghesquiere era that began in 1997 - once again, every collection is described, and then followed by reviews and editorial images allowing us to travel back in time, experience the atmosphere of the past seasons and appreciate the unique architectural vision of Ghesquiere and his influence on the house's aesthetics built upon achieving perfection with every seam - as well as feel the unavoidable sensation of loss and confusion as you can't help but compare that glorious past with the gauche present.
Yes, you will want to follow this read with some other books on Balenciaga, especially the ones full of gorgeous high-resultions glossy photographs, but not because Balenciaga Paris wouldn't suffice on its own, but simply because it will trigger your brain to crave more... Indeed, a prized possession and one of those books I'd never want to part with.
Photo source: Lisa Fossangrives in Balenciaga photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue Paris September 1950, Cristobal Balenciaga photographed by Boris Lipnitzki in 1927, Suzy Parker in Balenciaga photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe for Harper's Bazaar March 1953, Balenciaga press clippings from Women's Wear Daily July 1958 and January 1965, Invoice from the firm Cristobal Balenciaga 1927, invitation to Balenciaga first fashion show, Balenciaga salon in Paris, Balenciaga atelier sketches for Winter 1943 collection, Le Theatre de la Mode poster by Jean Cocteau, atelier sketch for Summer 1947 collection, cover of Vogue Paris October 1950 by Irving Penn, Lisa Fossangrives in Balenciaga photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue Paris 1950, Gemma Ward wearing Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue March 2006all images are scanned by me from Balenciaga Paris