As the official London Fashion Week hotel, The May Fair has played host to some of the greatest names in fashion over the years. Now, the hotel, in partnership with the Victoria & Albert Museum, is celebrating the unique vision of the Spanish master of haute-couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga with an exclusive fashion-inspired package. Digital Editor Millie Walton is swept into a world of glamour and striking silhouettes
The May Fair is one of those hotels that Londoners trot past on their way to work, wistfully staring through the glass windows into the plush interiors that seem almost surreal in their gleam. It has a commanding kind of presence that you feel as soon as you walk in the door and stand at the desk in the wide (also gleaming) lobby, wondering how on earth you managed to sneak in and whether all of the glamorous people around you are either famous or work in fashion (they certainly look like they do).
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‘Do you work in fashion, madam?’ the receptionist asks me as he hands across my room key and a chilled glass of pineapple-infused water. I shake my head rather solemnly, but as I wait for the lift, a crisp cream envelope containing two tickets to the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion exhibition in my hand, I could almost imagine that I do. It’s one of the most wonderful things about staying in a hotel, you step into a different world and time, albeit temporarily.
Our room is a studio suite on the third floor. It’s a mammoth, labyrinthine building with winding corridors and some 404 rooms. The room is spacious and quite dated in design with the back wall covered in a heavily patterned fabric, but its hard not be swept up in the romance and stories of all the other feet who have walked across the carpet. Flushed fashion assistants rushing in and out with armfuls of billowing dresses, catwalk models, photographers, even Cristóbal Balenciaga himself perhaps. The huge, sleek, black walk-in wardrobe was certainly built to hold vast quantities of luxuriant fabrics.
The V&A is conveniently ten minutes by car or tube from the hotel; we arrive in the early afternoon on a week day when there are fewer people, and the atmosphere is more serene. It’s the first ever UK exhibition to reflect on the work and continued influence of Spanish designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga and coincides with the 80th anniversary of the opening of his fashion house in Paris. It’s a fairly compact exhibition, largely centring around the latter part of the designer’s career, in which he literally changed the shape of women’s fashion by introducing new radical cuts such as the tunic, sack, ‘baby doll’ and shift dress.
Many of these iconic dresses are on display along with archive sketches, photographs and short films with clips of current designers such as Molly Goddard and J.W. Anderson reflecting on Balenciaga’s innovations. Most interesting, are the x-ray works by artist Nick Veasey who unveils the inner workings of some of the more complex pieces, demonstrating how the seemingly impossible shapes were created. Balenciaga’s pieces were – and still are, in many ways – strikingly modern, often ignoring the natural shape of the woman’s body to sculpt architectural type installations. The elegance of such voluminous pieces is almost inexplicable. The exhibition serves as both a beautiful homage to the fashion house and a interesting revelation into the true artistry of haute couture.
Conversations feel more inspired that evening as we sip the sweet, pink Cristóbal cocktail at the May Fair bar. How would Balenciaga design a cocktail, we wonder, deciding that it would probably be in much larger, angular glass, but the setting is suitably elegant. For dinner, we walk across the lobby into the May Fair Kitchen; it’s a treat not to have to brave the bracing January winds and the food here is superb, taking the form of Spanish, Italian and Peruvian tapas plates. We order an indulgent selection – the risotto and squid are the stand-out dishes – and then return to the quiet of our suite to dream of ballooning skirts and unusual silhouettes.
The Balenicaga package at The May Fair Hotel includes an overnight stay with breakfast, two tickets to the exhibition at the V&A. Rates start from £285. themayfairhotel.co.uk