Rhythm & Movement in Design

Exceptional design can provide a moving experience. I’m just back from a delightful holiday in the Bay Area and a visit to the Balenciaga and Spain exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The couture designs of the brilliant mid-century designer Cristobal Balenciaga resonate in one’s mind long after viewing. Here is how the museum described the exhibition:

“You can feel the pulse of Spain beat in every garment in Balenciaga and Spain. A dress ruffle inspired by the flourish of a flamenco dancer’s bata de cola skirt; paillette-studded embroidery that glitters on a bolero jacket conjuring a 19th-century traje de luces (suit of lights) worn by a matador; clean, simple, and technically perfect lines that extrapolate the minimalist rhythms and volumes of the vestments of Spanish nuns and priests; a velvet-trimmed evening gown aesthetically indebted to the farthingale robe of a Velázquez Infanta.”

I was struck by the sense of rhythm emanating from Balenciaga’s designs. For instance, the influence of the matador can be seen in the above photograph from the exhibition. The evening ensemble, consisting of a romper of black silk charmeuse and bolero of pink silk faille date to winter 1960. I can imagine the decorative tiered spheres accenting the bolero dancing with each movement of the wearer.

I particularly enjoyed the soundless video loop of a fashion show from the Balenciaga atelier in Paris in the early 1960s. Each model walks into the showroom holding a number, as the clients casually watch, chat, and, yes, even smoke cigarettes, utilizing standing ashtrays provided for their convenience. Seeing the fashions on real women brings the designs to full flower and allows the garments the movement that is part of Balenciaga’s design legacy.

The jewelry accenting the fashions shown in the video was especially of interest. Balenciaga adorned a significant number of his looks with jewelry, including brooches and earrings, and most notably statement necklaces. Exceptionally memorable was a backless dress. When the model turned around, we saw that it was accented with a pendant necklace that ended in a lush tassel of pearls falling to mid-back. The look was spectacular, and those watching the video with me audibly gasped. Jewelry was not included in the exhibition along with the apparel although it added substantially to the visual impact of Balenciaga’s evening looks.

This summer, color and prints provide the material from which rhythm and motion infuse clothing and jewelry designs. The July 2011 issue of Elle highlights Southwestern hues and spirited patterns, and also features a woven bracelet infused with energy and movement in an arrow design from Hands Up Not Handouts, founded by Tess Sager. The nonprofit organization “aims to improve the lives of female artisans in developing nations by helping them produce and sell on-trend (as opposed to touristy), one-of-a-kind woven bracelets and earrings.”

The above display of batik prints from the June 2011 issue of Glamour sizzles with energy conveyed via fashion and jewelry designs. The featured colorful drop earrings are from Accentuality. Upper right, a model is pictured bedecked in bangle bracelets backstage at the Suno runway show.

Neon colors and lively designs are featured in the July 2011 issue of InStyle, including a woven necklace from Marni and bracelets from Fendi and Erickson Beamon.

The July 2011 issue of Lucky references music in its description of these bright pieces created in mixed media: “Pile on these ‘80s-inspired, collage-fabulous pieces to make a simple summer outfit sing.” Along with a design from the Christian Dior spring 2011 runway, the magazine features rings from Joomi Lim, a charm bracelet from Aurelie Bidermann, a collar necklace from Assad Mounser, a wrap bracelet from Ettika, a charm bracelet from Venessaarizaga.com, a two-finger ring from Lydellnyc.com, a wrap bracelet from Henribendel.com, and dangling earrings from whats-in-store.com.

Glamour magazine further captures the exuberance of rhythmic designs in the above feature from the June 2011 issue. “Introducing the OMG necklace!” proclaims Glamour: “Could anything be more fun? Wear with tees and LBDs; expect compliments.” The necklaces shown, as numbered, are from Adia Kibur, Freedom at Topshop, Tom Binns Design, Shourouk, and Assad Mounser.

Wearing jewelry or other designs infused with rhythm and movement can make an ensemble pulse with energy and its wearer, and those around her, smile.