Barrel suit by Balenciaga

Barrel suit by Balenciaga

Skirt suit
Designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972)
Paris, France
1951
Wool tweed lined with taffeta and silk
Museum no. T.128&A-1970
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Given by Miss Catherine Hunt

This suit, comprising a loose-fitting jacket and a slim-line skirt, was shown in Balenciaga's Winter collection in 1950 as model No 24. It reveals Balenciaga’s debt to his training in tailoring in Spainand is an early example of the loose-fitting styles which he refined over the 20 years after the Second World War. The magyar sleeve (a sleeve cut in one with the body) reveals how adept Balenciaga was at less traditional forms of construction. He was renowned in the trade for inspecting and resetting sleeves that were not perfect. The slubbed nature of the tweed conceals the beauty of the cut whereas in the original mannequin parade, it was clearly visible because plain wool was used. Tweed was a sturdy woollen fabric that appealed to Balenciaga because of the optical illusions created by the two or more colours in the indistinct flecked pattern. From 1947 onwards Balenciaga offered two styles: the first fitted and in line with the hour-glass shape of Dior's ‘New Look’, the second semi- fitted or loose. This easy alternative became increasingly fashionable towards the end of the decade. In the early 1950s, a made-to-measure woollen suit from Balenciaga cost about 110,000 francs (£112), a sum well beyond the reach of most consumers (equivalent to about £2,000 today).