By  on February 5, 2007

DALLAS — Cristóbal Balenciaga, whose vision has inspired generations of designers, is being celebrated at a new exhibit with a Texas twist at the Meadows Museum, the Spanish art gallery at Southern Methodist University here.

"Balenciaga and His Legacy: Haute Couture From the Texas Fashion Collection" highlights Balenciaga couture collected and worn by Texans — socialite Claudia Heard de Osborne and Neiman Marcus millinery buyer Bert de Winter, said Myra Walker, curator of the Texas Fashion Collection at the University of North Texas in Denton. She developed the exhibit, which runs through May 27, by drawing on the collection's 300 pieces of Balenciaga clothing, shoes and hats.

"Our show is really personal rather than encyclopedic," Walker said. "You get to see their own unique style."

A Paris retrospective that closed Jan. 28 examined the Balenciaga house from its start in 1937 and included works by the current designer, Nicolas Ghesquière. The Meadows show focuses on dramatic eveningwear from 1949 until the couturier retired in 1968. He died of a heart attack in 1972 at age 77.

"Balenciaga was not interested in making a lower-priced line," Walker noted. "Nineteen sixty-eight was a tumultuous year with protests about the Vietnam war. He said, ‘These are not my customers.'"

Walker said it was important to depict the designer's strong influence, and the exhibit displays 20 looks by André Courrèges, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Oscar de la Renta that are also from the Texas Fashion Collection. A 1957 Balenciaga slim brown wool tunic dress, a precursor of the minidress, presages a beige wool Courrèges dress from 1961. The bulk of the 80 ensembles and 25 hats in the show are by Balenciaga.

"He influenced every designer there is, whether they know it or not," Walker said.

A highlight is a one-of-a-kind black velvet gown with a bustle skirt festooned with ermine tails, Walker said. It's displayed with 40 other fanciful dresses and gowns in a gallery with a hand-painted impressionistic backdrop that mimics the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. The intent was to present the dresses as they would be worn at a ball.

"We're celebrating art and the art of haute couture design," said Meadows director Mark Roglán. "As a Spanish art museum…we are also celebrating what is the greatest Spanish designer of all time."The two women whose clothing is featured were enamored of fashion, and Balenciaga in particular.

Claudia Heard de Osborne, the daughter of a Texas oilman, was a friend of Neiman Marcus icon Stanley Marcus and his brother, Edward. After she married Rafael de Osborne, scion of a Spanish wine and sherry dynasty, Heard de Osborne moved to Spain in 1948.

"She wanted to be the person who made an entrance, that you couldn't take your eyes off," Walker said.

After the designer's retirement "he sent her to Givenchy, which she was sad about at first, but then she loved Givenchy and we have a lot of things from him," Walker added.

Stanley and Edward Marcus persuaded Heard de Osborne to donate her 200-plus Balenciaga clothing and accessories to the Texas Fashion Collection. Later, she also gave her Givenchys, for a total of 371 dresses, suits, evening gowns and hats. Heard de Osborne died in 1988.

Bert de Winter, the other woman whose style is shown through dresses and photographs, was a Neiman's buyer who "liked to be thought of as the absolute most chic person," Walker said. About 60 of her Balenciagas are in the Texas Fashion Collection. She died in 1972.

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