How Velázquez and Goya Inspired Balenciaga’s Daring Haute Couture

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Balenciaga’s trademark color, black, has deep roots in the history of fashion, but especially in Spanish culture. In the court of Phillip II, black became the ultimate status symbol. The timeless color remains “one of the archetypes of Spanish identity,” the press release notes, perhaps due to Balenciaga’s influence. In 1938, Harper’s Bazaar characterized Balenciaga’s shade in physical terms: “The black is so black that it hits you like a blow.”

A high-neck black satin evening gown from 1943 features matching silk buttons from waist to collar, with two vertical white stripes cascading elegantly down the length of the dress. The garment nearly resembles a priest’s habit. It also reflects a minimalist take on the starchly conservative black gowns preferred by fashionable Habsburg courtiers, like the ruff-necked Countess of Miranda, who is depicted in an undated painting attributed to 16th-century artist Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Unlike Balenciaga’s pared-down design, the countess accents her finery with jewels embroidered on her sleeves and skirt, a technique Balenciaga himself popularized in other, more embellished designs.

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