Learning from 'The Master'

We invited students from the London College of Fashion to investigate iconic garments by master couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, deconstructing his processes and revealing secrets of their making and construction.

Renowned for his technical pattern cutting skills and use of bold, architectural shapes, Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga produced some of the most influential designs in the history of modern fashion. On the outside, his garments can appear deceptively simple, yet this simplicity was often achieved through complex pattern cutting, signalling the couturier's skill as a master craftsman. In order to understand how these sculptural shapes were constructed, we invited MA Pattern and Garment Technology students from the London College of Fashion to re-realise Balenciaga's designs, with the help of contemporary digital pattern cutting technology.

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The students 'reverse-engineered' the original garments, replicating the couturier's techniques such as draping on the stand, and using the direct trace method, where flat pattern cutting had been used – in order to extract workable paper patterns. These patterns were then scanned and digitally enhanced and used to create replica calico toiles (prototype garments).

By studying the original garments, the students were able to identify those signature details – such as the use of few seams (particularly in the sides of garments), the unusually placed shoulders, kimono sleeves, soft stand-away collars and exceptional finishing throughout – which earned Balenciaga the accolade of 'The Master' of haute couture.

Helping to demistify these masterpieces of modern fashion, both the
digital patterns and the students' toiles will feature in the exhibition Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, alongside the original garments.