Owens: In my opinion, 1957 — around the time of his skirt suits and the chemise-style sack dress — was when he defined his label. Every subsequent collection was an evolution. I almost couldn’t narrow it down to a specific collection; during those early years, he created the Balenciaga that we all know and refer to today.
Golbin:1957 was a pivotal year for fashion. It’s the year that Christian Dior passed away and Yves Saint Laurent took the reins. There were really two schools at the time: Dior had established the New Look — a very specific, very feminine silhouette — and then there were Gabrielle Chanel and Cristóbal Balenciaga, two outsiders who proposed a different silhouette in the fashion vocabulary. It’s true that 1957 was a pivotal year for Balenciaga, but I’d prefer to include 1967, because that’s the collection when he arrives at the most minimal construction of all his dresses, which is the wedding dress made from a single seam. His entire trajectory was about simplifying the garment to its purest expression. That wedding gown was like an intricate puzzle. So, yes, ’57 is important because he introduces so many different innovations — the chemise dress, the flounced lace baby-doll dresses — but I chose the collection where he almost finished his life’s work. He had started more than 50 years earlier, and, with this collection, it was almost like he’d arrived at his final goal: simplicity to the maximum.
Credit…© Henri Cartier-Bresson © Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Owens: Wow, you’re an encyclopedia.
Li:This is where it is important to distinguish the designer from the collection. It can be difficult for people to distinguish the two. However, we must choose specific collections. Balenciaga was known for his mastery of a particular silhouette. My hesitation to include him in my collection stems from the possibility that it could have been any of his collections. But the way Pamela spoke about spring 1967, Balenciaga’s distillation of clothing into its purest form, has swayed me. His legacy didn’t come out of nowhere. It was developed over a period of 10 years.
Owens: I was focused on when he emerged, because that is when you make changes and are visible to everyone.