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The Victoria & Albert Museum
In the 1950s, high society ladies were intrigued with the designs of Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) who offered up a collection of sumptuous and theatrical evening gowns of silk taffeta which were inspired by dramatic drapery and flounces.
Here’s one of them. Designed by Balenciaga in Paris between 1953 and 1954, this gown of cerise silk taffeta features a bouffant back which offers an extravagant contrast to the simple lines of the v-neck front of the sleeveless sheath. A slit at the center of the tapered, narrow skirt allows the wearer a greater range of motion.
The back of the dress is composed of swathed flounces over doubled tiers of triangularly-cut taffeta. These layers are wired to help them retain their shape even after the wearer has been sitting.
Lined with chiffon, the dress fastens with a metal zip and a row of covered buttons at the reverse of the boned and padded bodice.
Balenciaga nicknamed this gown the “Balloon Dress.” It’s one of two which were made that season. The other is crafted of pale blue silk taffeta. This style nodded at the scale and extravagance of historical dress while keeping a modern silhouette and demonstrated a penchant for Nineteenth-Century designs which Balenciaga shared with Dior. By the 1960s, however, Balenciaga had transitioned to simpler designs.
Fans of FX's "American Horror Story," may be put in mind of the "Coven" character "Myrtle Snow" and her famous last word. As Myrtle is bravely burned at the stake for a second time (this time voluntarily), the fashionista-spell-caster shouts, "Balenciaga" whilst wearing a red gown which is certainly an intentional nod to the designer's brilliant cherry works of this era.
Pardon the loop of "Balenciaga" on this video before Myrtle is...uh... enflamed, but it was the only clip available.