Exclusive Exhibition – ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’

Words by Penny Cordner 
Images supplied

Regarded by many as ‘The Master’ of haute couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga was one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. 

A must see for fashion-lovers and runway admirers, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is now on show at Bendigo Art Gallery (17 August – 10 November). This stunning exhibition celebrates Balenciaga’s innovative use of form and structure and provides a glimpse into the life of the trailblazing Spaniard. 

The exclusive exhibition, curated by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, showcases Balenciaga’s work throughout the 1950s and 1960s – regarded by many as the most creative period of his career.

Through a display of more than 100 garments and hats, defined by their sculptural quality, manipulation of textile and dramatic use of colour and texture – visitors will uncover the legacy of this renowned couturier. 

“The exhibition continues our niche of bringing major fashion shows to Bendigo and illustrates Balenciaga’s incredible innovation, his colossal influence and enduring legacy on fashion as we know it today,” says Director of Bendigo Art Gallery, Jessica Bridgfoot. 

As one of the oldest and largest regional galleries in the country,  Bendigo Art Gallery has established strong ties with international institutions in order to bring outstanding fashion and design exhibitions exclusively to Bendigo. 

“Balenciaga was absolutely a seminal figure in the fashion world and we feel that the exhibition is a must-see for anyone with an understanding or interest in fashion,” Jessica says.

Balenciaga was absolutely a seminal figure in the fashion world and we feel that the exhibition is a must-see for anyone with an understanding or interest in fashion.

Not only was Balenciaga revered for his pioneering use of fabrics, but his work went on to redefine the female silhouette in modern times. In the later stages of his career, Balenciaga introduced bubbled, caped and geometric silhouettes never before seen in women’s fashion, refusing to accept the hour-glass shapes of other designers of his time.  

Balenciaga’s radical ‘sack dress’ proved that freedom of movement and comfort were embraced by women, and he was responsible for revolutionary shapes such as the tunic, baby doll and shift dresses – all of which remain fashion staples today. 

The exhibit also provides a unique insight into Balenciaga’s creative process – with archive sketches, patterns, photographs, fabric samples and catwalk footage included alongside the garments. 

Thanks to a collaboration with X-ray artist, Nick Veasey and a digital pattern-making project with the London College of Fashion, visitors are able to uncover more of his creative process than ever before. This new, forensic investigation into the garments reveal the details that made Balenciaga’s work so extraordinary. 

Highlights of the exhibition include the Tulip Dress – with its gravity defying layers, and the Opera Coat, which frames the wearers face as if emerging from a flower.  

There are also ensembles made for American actress and singer, Ava Gardner and dresses and hats belonging to 1960s fashion icon, Gloria Guinness. Visitors will also find pieces worn by Mona von Bismarck – one of the world’s wealthiest women, who once ordered more than 150 Balenciaga garments in one season!

 Balenciaga’s own work is followed by that of some of his protégés and other notable designers who continue his legacy by drawing on his passion for innovation and modernism. Work from designers such as Issey Miyake, Iris van Herpen and Emanuel Ungaro are on show alongside pieces from the current designer of House of Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is exclusively showing at Bendigo Art Gallery – just two hours north of Melbourne. There are a number of great places to refuel before or after the exhibit, including the eclectic Bendigo Wholefoods & Kitchen and the outstanding Masons of Bendigo


WHAT: Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion
WHERE: Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo, Vic 3550
WHEN: 17 Aug 19 – 10 Nov 19
More information: https://www.bendigoregion.com.au/bendigo-art-gallery/exhibitions/balenciaga-shaping-fashion

Shepparton Art Museum

Regional art museums, if you’ll pardon the pun, are in the midst of a renaissance. OHO’s recent visit to Gippsland Art Gallery was an eye-opener, and Shepparton’s Art Museum (SAM) is no less a delight.

There’s a core thread of indigenous art, both traditional and contemporary. But there’s also a significant collection of work by women collected over decades, which now forms one of the most significant collections of its kind in Australia. Along with a strong focus on ceramics (including the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award and the national Indigenous Ceramic Art Award), SAM is a compelling reason for art lovers to make a road trip to Shepparton.

The museum is (for now) housed in the multi-purpose space in Shepparton that includes the performing arts centre and an adjacent cafe. Soon, the new development will enable it to show much more of the collection as well as temporary shows by contemporary artists.

Arlo Mountford’s video installations echoed the kind of show you’d expect from much larger institutions like MONA. Upcoming shows promise just as much. Perennial favourites from the collection like Sam Jinks “Woman and Child” is a must-see piece of art. In fact, director Rebecca Coates says that locals show loving concern when the piece is moved – such a part of the community she has become.

Beechworth Artscape Walk

The concept of a guided short-walk examining the history of certain works of art and well-known artists is familiar to anyone who has travelled to Europe. Finding one in regional Victoria should come as no surprise, given the iconic works of art from the likes of Nicholas Chevalier, Eugene von Guerard, and others.

So, it turns out Beechworth has served as something of a base for frontier artists. And the Beechworth Artscape Walk is led by Jamie Kronborg, who is passionate about the area and its art history. You get the sense that he knows much more than he has time to share in the course of a guided walk!

He calls this tour ‘A short walk with a story’, and says, “Walking around Beechworth you can hear the echoes of history in the streetscapes and imagine what life was like here in the 1800s.” It’s true, and with a few visual aids of iconic and easily recognisable 19th Century paintings, Jamie transports tour participants back to the emergence of a new European culture in Australia – one heavily influenced by the land and life on it.


A Bohemian icon for decades, Monstalvat sits in the bushland just outside of Eltham, about half an hour from Melbourne. It’s been an artist colony since it was founded by Justus Jörgensen in 1934 and is an eclectic collection of buildings rambling across an expansive garden property.

The large halls house galleries, which host exhibitions and functions with a bohemian edge. The smaller buildings house studios for resident artists – painters, jewellers, potters, textile designers, glass artists, sculptors and writers. Some of these artists have work for sale in the larger retail space, some offer classes where you can come to learn their techniques.

Montsalvat is rich in the art history of Australia and a wander through the sprawling gardens is the perfect way to slow down from whatever fast-paced life you’re taking a break from.  When you’re exploring the grounds and the great halls, and see the pool, the small artist studios and dwellings, it’s easy to imagine being part of the bohemian movement that was inspired by the vibrancy of the surrounds.

The cafe on site is a nice place to stop and recharge, but don’t let your exploration stop there. Take in the various exhibits and spend some time with like-minded people. Who knows, you might find inspiration from the surrounds like Justus Jörgensen.