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Orientalism and Cristóbal Balenciaga


Spanish-born couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga explored a number of international themes in his prolific oeuvre; one of the most significant being the influence of traditional Japanese culture on his designs.

Posted April 9th, 2018 By Colby Mugrabi

A number of Balenciaga’s most iconic creations exhibit subtle odes of Orientalism. While full backs and generous proportions were common elements in Balenciaga’s design vernacular, the cocoon shape of his Evening Wrap from 1951 was in specific allusion to the additional fabric needed in an outer kimono to accommodate a Japanese woman’s obi. Similarly, the rolled collar that makes up the neckline of the evening wrap is almost identical to the fabric band that lines the neck of a kimono.

The influence does not end there, a significant number of Balenciaga’s designs throughout his three decade-long career display decorative and functional elements that allude to the allure of the Far East, ranging from three-quarter length, kimono-like sleeves, fabric sashes and tapered necklines to expose the nape of a woman’s neck. In Japanese culture, the nape of the neck was seen as the height of seduction; geishas would apply a thick, mask-like layer of white makeup covering their face, however would always leave a patch of bare skin at the back of one’s neck for an erotic touch.

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