Cristol Ball

The first Balenciaga retrospective in Paris opened on Tuesday, showcasing dramatic sculptural shapes and surprisingly vivid colors.

PARIS — "The clothes look very familiar. Some of them I actually wore," Martha Stewart quipped on Tuesday night after previewing the "Balenciaga Paris" exhibition at the Museum of Fashion and Textiles here. Among the VIPs, many of them dressed in Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière, were Jennifer Connelly, Maggie Cheung, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marianne Faithfull.

"The baton has been passed over to Nicolas Ghesquière so beautifully," Connelly pronounced about the exhibition, which spans the almost 70 years since Cristobal Balenciaga set up shop in Paris.

Even men had an opinion on the clothes. "I particularly liked the looks from 1939; they were very severe," said Hugh Grant, who was accompanied by Jemima Khan.

"It was interesting to see all the stages where Nicolas Ghesquière got his inspiration," said Cheung, who is featured in a mini fashion film in the exhibition. "It is always interesting to look at history. The juxtaposition of modernity with tradition exemplified the extremity of Balenciaga."

And that's exactly what Ghesquière set out to showcase.

"I wanted to put Balenciaga in a very contemporary environment," said the designer, who's no fan of historical decor. "The high-tech elements were very important."

No wonder the mannequins for Ghesquière's designs are otherworldly droids with flashing eyes, turning the tables on the spectators. Even Balenciaga's designs are set in a "galactic landscape," blasting them back to the future. Ghesquière tapped artist Dominique Gonzales-Foerster and lighting expert Benoit Lalloz to realize his extraterrestrial vision. The trio faced certain restrictions, including the fact that lighting had to be kept low so as not to harm historic garments. Still, it all adds up to a transporting experience up to and including a case that resembles a teleportation scene from "Star Trek."

As for the clothes, Ghesquière said visitors should discover that Balenciaga, often associated with austere and black designs, had a colorful side, too. Mustard yellow, fuchsia, and offbeat violets and greens are all on display, along with Balenciaga's three recurrent prints: polkadots, stripes and florals. One red dotted dress and cape, awash in ruffles, resembles a ladybug.
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