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Evening ensemble

  • Place of origin:

    Paris, France (made)

  • Date:

    1967 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Balenciaga, born 1895 - died 1972 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gazar silk, slightly padded, machine sewn and hand finished

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Loel Guinness

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This evening ensemble comprises a sleeveless dress and matching cape. It represents several aspects of the work of the Spanish couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga, who was active in Paris from 1937 till his retirement in 1968, only a year after the outfit was made for his faithful client, Mrs Loel Guinness.

Firstly, it relies on deep knowledge of the sculptural possibilities of certain firm textiles, and on letting the textile determine the cut of the garments. Balenciaga worked with the Swiss textile manufacturer Abraham in creating this fabric, silk gazar.

Secondly, it typifies the increasing simplicity and abstraction of his designs from the early 1960s onwards when applied decoration began to play a lesser role than dramatic shapes.

Thirdly, it reveals familiarity with the austere quotidian dress of the Catholic clergy (mantle and soutane). The area of Spain from which Balenciaga came was densely populated by such figures clad in black – and the colour, layered effect, circular and tubular shapes relate closely to their garb. In other respects it is entirely modern.

Physical description

Evening ensemble consisting of black gazar silk dress and cape.
[Cape] Cape of black gazar silk, shorter than the dress. It is semi-circular shaped and fastens at the neckline with two covered buttons. It has an asymmetric sweep.
[Dress] Dress of black gazar silk, high-necked and sleeveless. It flares from the shoulder to the knee at the front and sweeps to ankle-length at the back. It is cut with a single seam and is finished at the back with a large knotted sash. The gown is slightly padded to stand away from the body.

Place of Origin

Paris, France (made)


1967 (made)


Balenciaga, born 1895 - died 1972 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Gazar silk, slightly padded, machine sewn and hand finished


[Cape] Length: 102 cm neck to hem, Length: 103 cm, Width: 114.5 cm, Width: 92.5 cm, Length: 44.5 cm, Length: 54.5 cm, Depth: 25 cm, Width: 10.7 cm, Diameter: 3 cm
[Dress] Length: 163.5 cm neck to hem, Length: 92.4 cm, Width: 50 cm, Length: 66 cm, Width: 138 cm, Length: 146.5 cm, Width: 7 cm

Object history note

The evening dress and gown belonged to Mrs Loel Guinness. She was one of Balenciaga's favourite customers. Its Beaton catalogue number is 27.

Historical significance: Signifcant as one of the most austerely aesetic of Balenciaga's 1960s creations, for his use of the textile he developed in conjunction with the manufacturer Abraham of Zurich, for its known provenance.

Registered File number RP/1970/3752

Historical context note

Balenciaga took much of his inspiration for his designs from his native Spain, particularly with this ensemble in its use of black and reminiscence of religious garments.

Gloria Guinness (nee Gloria Rubio y Alatorre, 1912-1980) was an elegant socialite and writer of the mid 20th century.

Her third husband, whom she married in 1951, was Group Capt. Thomas Loel Guinness, a Member of Parliament (died 1989) and an heir to the Guinness beer fortune.
She was voted 'Best Dressed Woman' in the world by Time magazine in 1962 behind Jackie Kennedy in first place. (See Time magazine Jan 26 1962)

She owned seven homes, with a full wardrobe in each so that she would never have to pack or wait at customs. She spread her patronage widely, and amongst donations to the V&A of pieces by Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy etc., are pieces by lesser known couturiers such as Chaumont and Lafaurie.

Descriptive line

Evening ensemble consisting of gazar silk dress and cape, designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Paris, 1967.

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

Lesley Ellis Miller, Cristobal Balenciaga. The Couturiers' Couturier, forthcoming London: V&A publications, 2007, Conclusion.
The ensemble presented deliberatly facing Inge Morath's image of two priests in the streets of Madrid in the mid 1950s.
Mendes, Valerie. Black In Fashion. London: V&A Publications, 1999.

Exhibition History

Black in Fashion (V&A 01/01/1999-31/12/1999)
The Little Black Dress (V&A 01/01/1983-31/12/1984)
Fashion: an anthology by Cecil Beaton (V&A 01/01/1972-31/12/1972)
Balenciaga and Spain (de Young Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco 26/03/2011-04/07/2011)
Devout/Divine: Fashion Vs Religion (Modemuseum Hasselt, Belgium 26/06/2010-09/01/2011)

Labels and date

EVENING DRESS, gazar (Abraham)
French, Paris, Balenciaga, 1967.

The stiff woven fabric is vital to the success of this sculptural dress. Its appearance - a simple, slightly glistening cone - belies its ingenious cut and construction. The garment has been cut in one piece with three main seams - two short ones at the shoulders and one long one down the centre back. The boat neckline, which is scooped out at the back, fastens at the left shoulder with hooks and eyes. Dipping hemlines have long occupied designers and in this case maximum contrast is achieved by a knee height at the front and a ground trailing level at the back. Thus we have the best of both worlds, from one angle, a petite black dress, from another an impressively trained gown. The curved and weighted hem has a wide self-binding (seamed at regular points) and the train has a deep facing which adds to the rigidity of the dress. It was originally worn under a shorter cape in the same fabric which buttons at the front and echoes the clean and dramatic flared lines.

Worn and given by Mrs Loel Guinness
The Cecil Beaton Collection
T.39-1974 [1983-84]

Associated names

Beaton, Cecil

Production Note

Produced by commission


Gazar silk


Machine sewing; Hand sewing


Fashion; Clothing; Evening wear

Production Type

Haute couture

Collection code


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