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Evening dress and cape
  • Evening dress and cape
    Balenciaga, Cristóbal, born 1895 - died 1972
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Evening dress and cape

  • Place of origin:

    Spain (made)
    Switzerland (textile, made)

  • Date:

    1965 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Balenciaga, Cristóbal, born 1895 - died 1972 (designer)
    Eisa (designed for)
    Abraham of Switzerland (textile manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woven silk gazar

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Beatrice Cole and Mrs Myra Pearce, in memory of Miss Ava Gardner

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On short term loan out for exhibition, case B21 []

Balenciaga had a natural affinity for black - his native Spain provided abundant inspiration in the black of peasant garb, of traditional mourning, of religious orders and of courtly attire as depicted by such artists as Velazquez and Zurbaran. Balenciaga used black in an uncompromising manner to create powerful fashion statements that attracted clients with a taste for drama. He composed evening gowns that were adventurous in their explorations of volume but never strayed into the realm of the outlandish. The only decoration is the artificial flowers at the hem of the dress and the collar of the cape.

He used silks with a weight and substance necessary to achieve and retain unusual silhouettes; like this Gazar, a thick silk fabric with a stiff finish, specially created for Balenciaga by the textile firm Abraham of Switzerland.

This dress and cape contain the 'Eisa' label, the Spanish branch of the House of Balenciaga, named after the designer's mother.

Physical description

Evening dress and cape of black silk gazar. Decorated with artificial black flowers.

Place of Origin

Spain (made)
Switzerland (textile, made)


1965 (made)


Balenciaga, Cristóbal, born 1895 - died 1972 (designer)
Eisa (designed for)
Abraham of Switzerland (textile manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Woven silk gazar

Marks and inscriptions

Label printed white on black


Circumference: 207 cm Sweep of dress, Width: 94 cm Bust of dress, Length: 133 cm Length of dress from neck to hem, Length: 19 cm Armhole of dress, Length: 7.5 cm Depth of dress hem, Circumference: 222 cm Sweep of cape, Length: 32 cm Depth of hem on cape

Object history note

Registered File number 1990/1420.

If the cost of his Paris salon was out of reach, there were other ways to buy a Balenciaga design. Some were sold less expensively under Balenciaga’s label Eisa in Spain, where labour costs were lower and cheaper fabrics might be used.

Ava Gardner moved to Madrid in the 1950s. She found Spain ‘unspoiled . . . dramatic . . .and so god-damn cheap to live in, that it was almost unbelievable’. She bought Balenciaga designs both in Paris and at Eisa, which may have appealed to what she called her ‘frugal side’. Gardner spent her final years living around the corner from the V&A and donated several of her clothes to the museum.

Gardner referred to her couture garments as her ‘babies’ and insisted on opening her wardrobes daily to let them ‘breathe’.

Descriptive line

Evening dress and cape of silk gazar, designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga for Eisa, Spain, and with the textile made by Abraham of Switzerland, autumn/winter 1965

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Mendes, Valerie. Black In Fashion. London: V&A Publications, 1999. p. 79.
The following excerpt is taken from Miller, Lesley Ellis. <i>Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972): The Couturiers' Couturier</i>. London: V & A Pub., 2007:

"Another American client, whose dark beauty echoed that of so many Spanish women, was Ava Gardner...
Sadly, in her autobiography, she does not mention that Balenciaga caught her attention, but he did - and the prices at his Spanish house [around half the price of pieces bought from his Parisian fashion house] may well have appealed to her 'frugal side'. Many of her clothes from the 1950s and 60s carry the EISA label, although some carry the Parisian label. Black dominates her surviving 'Spanish' wardrobe - a colour so beloved of Balenciaga that he made a single black dress with his own hands for each of his collections...
Ava Gardner's black 'rags' often had dramatic trims (diamante bands of decoration on one garment from 1967, feathers on another) or were teamed with such striking contrast such as the ecru lace evening coat. Her wardrobe therefore embraced certain Spanish institutions: the bolero, lace and heavy embroidery."
The following excerpt is taken from Jouve, Marie-Andrée, and Demornex, Jacqueline. <i>Balenciaga</i>. New York: Rizzoli, 1989.

"The collaboration with Gustave Zumsteg was [even more] important. During the sixties Abraham cloth was used for one third of his collections. Like other manufacturers, Zumsteg created materials especially for Balenciaga, complying with his needs and wishes. Balenciaga was able to select exactly what he wanted from hundreds of similar versions. On certain occasions they joined creative forces. Gazar, produced by Zumsteg in 1958, and Zagar (super-gazar, made in 1964), were more than simply materials. Zumsteg provided Balenciaga with a texture, a thickness, a stiffness and a weight as essential to the Master as Carrara marble to the sculptor".

Labels and date

Balenciaga was a devout Catholic. References to religious clothing occur frequently in his designs. This cape resembles a mozzetta, an elbow-length cape worn by clerics and monks. The photograph shows that the original design was even more austere. The flower trim was probably requested by the client, Hollywood actress Ava Gardner whose dress sense was more flamboyant.

Evening dress and cape
Silk gazar
Cristóbal Balenciaga (Eisa label),
Madrid, 1966
Given by Mrs Beatrice Cole and Mrs Myra Pearce, in memory of Miss Ava Gardner
V&A: T.292&A-1990 [27/05/2017-07/02/2018]


Silk (textile); Gazar



Subjects depicted



Fashion; Evening wear; Women's clothes

Production Type

Haute couture


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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