Haute Couture Science: World’s First Mobile X-ray Art Studio Exposes Layers of Balenciaga’s Mastery

X-ray artist Nick Veasey teamed with V&A in London to create the world’s first mobile x-ray art studio, revealing scientific details to the work of one of the 20th century’s most revered couturiers.

Throughout the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion project Veasey captured a series of beautifully crafted, life-sized x-ray images that reveal never before seen structure in Cristóbal Balenciaga’s work. It’s one of a number of forensic techniques that the Museum has applied to Balenciaga’s garments, to properly show the designer’s exquisite craftsmanship and also challenge some of the myths that have surrounded the elusive designer, such as whether or not he used boning in his garments.

The x-ray project is one of a number of forensic techniques that the Museum has applied to Balenciaga’s garments to shed new light on his exquisite craftsmanship.

X-ray photograph of evening dress, silk taffeta, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paris, 1954. X-ray by Nick Veasey, 2016 © Nick Veasey
Veasey’s ghostly images uncover hidden construction details invisible to the naked eye. X-ray photograph of evening dress, silk taffeta, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paris, 1955. X-ray by Nick Veasey, 2016 © Nick Veasey

How did they do it?

V&A’s Balenciaga collection is fragile, so handling and movement must be kept to a minimum. Answering the challenge of keeping the precious objects safe, Veasey converted the back of an articulated lorry into a purpose-built mobile unit to x-ray some of Balenciaga’s signature shapes, photographing them on site at the Museum.

X-rays of Balenciaga’s 1954 balloon hem dress with curious leg-ties show subtle internal hooping that supports the garment’s many swathes of fabric, revealing how Balenciaga fashioned one of his most ambitious designs.

A light pink dress dubbed ‘La Tulipe’ made for Hollywood actress Ava Gardner looks simple at first glance, but x-rays reveal the complex inner workings of the garment and the use of boning and corsetry, dispelling the myth that Balenciaga did not use such structures.

Stray dressmaking pins were also found inside garments – a tantalising glimpse into the hands-on nature of their creation.

 “X-ray is an honest process.  It has integrity.  It shows how well things are made or not, revealing previously hidden internal details. The collaboration with the V&A gave me access to stunning couture garments made by ‘The Master’ of fashion. The results, I am pleased to say are beguilingly beautiful as befits these iconic examples of historic fashion.” – Nick Veasey

Veasey’s x-rays are displayed alongside Balenciaga’s historic garments, as well as replica toiles created by pattern-cutting students from London College of Fashion, UAL, and digital animations to give a greater understanding of how Balenciaga created his most revolutionary designs.

Read more about the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion exhibit here.

Find out more about how the X-rays were created and try the V&A’s online X-ray interactive here.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion 

  • Sponsored by American Express
  • Gallery 40, V&A, London
  • Now until 18 February 2018
  • vam.ac.uk/balenciaga | #balenciaga
  • All images © Nick Veasey, 2016

Seen at top: ‘Baby doll’ cocktail dress, crêpe de chine, lace and satin, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paris, 1958 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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