There’s something oblique about Cristobal Balenciaga’s enduring epithet as “Fashion’s Picasso.” A compliment given by the late photographer Cecil Beaton that’s been peppered liberally throughout the press material for this really important thing I was really excited to write about, until my editor touched me to the quick with some comment about fashion not really being art. I’m sure John James Audobon would be humbled by the thought of being called “Ornithology’s Picasso” but what has ornithology done for you lately? The Fondazione Prada is built upon impossible shoes and coats that nice normal people just laugh their asses off at. We (the royal we) made it for you. We let you have your way with our Louis Vuitton bags, and just look at them! They’re beautiful, but we do have to keep explaining that they’re art. That’s all we want, to mix and mingle and be.
I don’t know what else we can do to please you. We (referring specifically to our godfather Hamish Bowles) put this together for you. For us. It’s organized according to the varied manner in which Balenciaga’s traditional Spanish influences (Catholicism, regional dress, bullfighting, flamenco dancing) were manifested, even abstracted in his work—the work of expressing a creative vision through craftsmanship. Oh sure, they were clothes once, but now they are housed in glass cases under the watchful gaze of docents, in a public art institution. Everyone knows an impeccably tailored gown may have little to say other than “I’m beautiful.” A gown embroidered to evoke Christ’s crown of thorns starts to acquire meaning, especially in relation to the mindset of the viewer. It has the potential to transcend its own corporeality and enter a conceptual space that invites a conceptual encounter.
There’s a word for it...it’s right on the tip of my tongue...