Riding on the UK09 bus from San Sebastian to Getaria it took me 55 min to get there. But who cares – the weather was stunning and so was the scenery. Cantabria has an emerald hue.
Getaria is the home of the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum. Has been for five years. The museum is almost right by the bus stop. Outside escalators from the footpath to the museum takes you there in a sweet style.
Located just below the once-upon-a-time residence of Marqués and Marquesa of Casa Torres, the latter a mentor in the early days of Balenciaga’s career, the “volumetric and structural concept” of the museum is the creation of Cuban architect Julián Argilagos. It is a large, long, curved space, trapezoidal in section, complete with an integrated floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Inside the building there are three suspended areas which house the galleries.
I arrive having anticipated an entry fee of €10. Am, however, told that present charge is €5 due to current closure of the temporary exhibition area. Only the permanent exhbition is available to visit, which I consider a real pity. Before proceeding to this section I’m recommended to view a 20 min film about Balenciaga’s life and career.
Unfortunately, there’s a technical hiccup. Sound but nothing to see. A Spanish couple got there before me. They picked Spanish as their preferred language. Once the technical problem had been recitified, I spent 5 min watching the film, Spanish commentary ringing in my ears, yet unable to understand much. Spanish is not my strong point.
As much as I appreciate seeing beautiful people wearing expensive and fashionable clothes in early 20th century San Sebastian (where Balenciaga started his career), I decided to go and check out the exhibition.
At the advise of the receptionist, I work my way to the far end of the galleries on the 1st floor. The exhibition is mainly organised in a chronological order – best to start at the beginning. Each gallery is separated by black sliding glass doors. As you approach you half expect them to be walls, feels like your lucky day when they open …
Balenciaga was a very skilled tailor, the son of a seamstress, he started his tailoring apprenticeship when he was 12. As such he eventually became one of the few Parisian couturiers who could use their own hands to design, cut, and sew the models he devised.
His craftmanship is obvious. Yet, judging by the pieces on display I find his early creations somewhat conservative. Piping appliqué is common. His fascination with historic fashion is obvious.
The second gallery shows his creations by theme. And I think it’s here that the museum’s aim to give visitors insight in the principal characteristcs of Balenciaga’s work shines bright. Features highlighted are his use of embroidery, his “sack silhouette” innovation, the introduction of the concept of volume, experimentation with new fabrics such as Gazar.
Finally, the third gallery is dedicated to Balenciaga’s legacy. Key garments are accompanied by a screen giving a 3D demonstration of the relevant assembly technique. After all, Balenciaga with his mastery of his trade, was referred to the “architect of haute couture” …
I make my way to the exit. The museum is almost empty. I only saw a couple of visitors when walking through the galleries. A group of Asian women appeared to have some sort of race – “how fast can we do the Balenciaga museum?”. In their hurry they failed to see one of the black sliding doors, missing a third of the exhibition.
Some money has clearly been spent on building the said museum. The construction is very funky. Pity about the initial technical hiccup and language barrier (perhaps this can be organised in a different – read better – manner?). Missing out on the enjoyment of a temporary exhibition was also a disappointment.
On contemplation I still think my visit was worthwhile. Take the opportunity to stroll around the old town of Getaria when you are there.