Kings of Couture

Two masters of couture and their work are being compared and contrasted as well as lauded at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dior + Balenciaga: The Kings of Couture and Their Legacies focuses on garments and looks that show the kindred imagination and skill level of two men at the height of their creative powers during the mid-20th century when Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga influenced worldwide fashion and set the trends of the period.

Dior Ivory and Black Wool Day Dress, Autumn/Winter 1954, "H" Line. Balenciaga Navy Blue Wool and White Cotton Pique Day Dress, 1963.

Coupling garments of similar design and style, the small but thoughtfully curated exhibition sets out to show how close the two men were in their clothing concepts while diverging in terms of fabric and construction techniques. Whereas Dior relied on complex interior structures and crinolines to create volume, Balenciaga manipulated textiles to his will through ingenious cutting without the need for underlayers.

One fun test while viewing the pieces is to see if you can guess which one was designed by whom before reading the accompanying descriptive placards.

Balenciaga Black and Pink Printed Silk Dress, Spring 1965. Dior Black and Beige Printed Silk Day Ensemble, Spring/Summer 1954, "Muguet" Line.
Balenciaga Purple Mohair Coat, Circa 1960. Dior Olive Wool Boucle Coat, Autumn/Winter 1952, "Profilee" Line.

The show features around 65 garments and ensembles from the museum’s permanent collection and seeing them side-by-side creates a visual brotherhood between the two designers. While they each had clearly distinct styles and methods of designing and producing their silhouettes, seeing the outfits next to each other shows how much they were in tandem, despite their differences.

Balenciaga Camel Wool "Shar Pei" Scarf Coat, Autumn 1950.
Just four pattern pieces make this jacket hang beautifully with no side seams needed due to cutting the fabric on the bias and anchoring the shoulder gathers with a hidden band. Craftsmanship par excellence!

The show also emphasizes their inventive construction techniques through the use of 3-D video re-creations explaining how particular garments were made. The videos are a marvel, the footage showing meticulous study and careful documentation of every stitch, fold, pleat, etc. Using state-of-the-art technology, a pattern is then produced and the garment continues through its production to a finished replica, giving the viewer a full understanding of the complexity and artistry behind couture clothing.

These two innovators continue to influence and inspire designers today and their individual legacies are firmly in place. Seeing their designs alongside, however, not only brings out a renewed appreciation for each but a surprising “peas in a pod” relationship—an unexpected fashion fraternity.

Balenciaga Pale Beige Ribbed Silk Evening Dress, Spring 1961. Dior Pale Beige Ribbed Silk Evening Dress, Metallic and Faux Stone Embroidery, Autumn/Winter 1957, "Fuseau" Line.