Inventing Gazar: The Many Silks of Cristobel Balenciaga
The fashion history books recount well the incredible designs of Cristobal Balenciaga and how he altered the female silhouette. Born in Spain, the Paris-based designer shifted away from the hourglass shape, leaning toward a fluidity that lacked any kind of discernible waist. But Balenciaga’s journey with silk chiffon, faille and gazar, is just as revolutionary.
A tailor by trade, Balenciaga would drape, cut and fit his own muslin patterns when designing his dresses, capes and blouses. During the Forties and Fifties, Balenciaga began experimenting with fabric composition and technique. He favored silk fabrics that could form and support his structured clothing. And when the Sixties dawned, he needed a special silk to create a certain kind of silhouette; going so far as to invent his own.
Here are three silks - still used in contemporary design today - made famous by the legendary, Cristobel Balenciaga.
The elegance of silk chiffon with its sheer aesthetic and soft, beautiful drape saw Balenciaga take up the fabric prolifically in Forties. Stronger and heavier than silk gauze, the crepe-like texture formed many of the designer’s cocktail dresses.
An iconic Balenciaga of the decade was a printed chiffon frock in a large poppy print with different shades of red petals, and green stems on a black ground. The bodice and sleeves were lined with plain black chiffon, while an A-line chiffon skirt gathered in loose folds over a ten-gore flared foundation of black taffeta. Accentuating his heightened waist line with a black suede black, Balenciaga extended the chiffon below the taffeta, before gathering it and attaching the fabric inside the hemline.
Stemming from his appreciation of cultural diversity and ceremonial dress, Balenciaga was a pusher of Orientalism in the Fifties. He produced a rose-colored wrap dress made of silk faille, which was shaped like a cocoon at the back – meant to imitate the arch of a Japanese woman's outer kimono. A plain, woven silk, Balenciaga’s faille was designed with pronounced, yet flat crosswise ribs.
The silk weave was constructed with grouped weft yarns, which are finer and were larger in number, giving off a lustrous sheen to the fabric.
The silk provided Balenciaga with fluidity. For example, emphasizing the nape of the neck of his wrap dress. By dropping the bias-rolled collar, Balenciaga could truly evoke the kimono's band neckline, which dipped at the back.
Balenciaga’s passion for structural cloth and ornate embroideries during, and after WWII, lead him to develop the silk gazar. Teaming up with Swiss textile firm Abraham, he took the lighter silks already used in his tailoring, baby doll frocks and eveningwear, and made them sturdier.
The gazar was thicker and more pliable, and boasted a high-twist double yarn, which was then woven into one, giving the material crisp and smooth texture. Balenciaga featured silk gazar in his women’s wear collections for most of the Sixties.
It was especially useful for bridal gowns, with the gazar’s lightweight, moulding qualities instilling shape into Balenciaga’s architectural wedding dresses, featuring prominently in at the end of the decade.