Inside the Balenciaga Opening
gwyneth paltrow, anna wintour
Anna Wintour and Gwyneth Paltrow at the de Young Museum

Legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland once said that “If a woman came in in a Balenciaga dress, no other woman in the room existed.” At the recent Balenciaga gala at the de Young in San Francisco, Mrs. Vreeland’s observation was pushed to the limit by the fact that at least 19 women were wearing the hallowed label.

anna wintour, denise hale, gavin newsom

Anna Wintour, Gavin Newsom and Denise Hale

But if there were one Balenciaga-clad woman at the event who seemed to make all others invisible, it was the most petite and quiet of them all: Vogue’s Anna Wintour, wearing a glittering gown created for her by Nicolas Ghesquire from a 1957 design by the master couturier.

anna wintour, hamish bowles

Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles

Touring the exhibit with curator (and Vogue contributor) Hamish Bowles, Anna told Diane Dorrans Saeks “I’m so impressed with the show… Hamish is so knowledgeable, so brilliant.”

Although San Francisco’s most fashionable women are often featured in Vogue (Sloan Barnett, Vanessa Getty, Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Danielle Steel, the Trainas and the Swansons), it’s rare for the editor herself to visit the city, so it was exciting to see her. The party was attended by A-Listers Gwyneth Paltrow and Orlando Bloom, but it was Anna who was eyed like a pop star as she toured the exhibit. One prominent woman breathlessly told how she saw her earlier in the day at Saks Fifth Avenue. Others dissected her wardrobe (“she wore that fur before” muttered one keen observer.) And even the most jaded and sophisticated couldn’t help but gawk.

Anna Wintour with Laura Mulleavy and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte

The occasion for all the fabulous fashionista fun was the Museum’s opening gala of “Balenciaga and Spain,” which runs through July 4, 2011. Over 350 guests attended the $2,500-a-ticket fund-raiser and previewed the 120-piece fashion retrospective of Cristobal Balenciaga’s career.

anna wintour, dede wilsey

East Meets West: Dede Wilsey welcomes Anna Wintour to San Francisco

The much publicized opening was in some ways a smaller, West Coast version of the annual benefit gala for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute in New York, which this year is expected to raise $9 million, with tickets starting at $25,000 (the second highest grossing fundraiser in New York, this year’s guest list includes Paul McCartney, Jeff Koons, Alicia Keys and Marissa Mayer, who with her husband Zachary Bogue was a key supporter for the Balenciaga exhibit in San Francisco.) Dede Wilsey has consistently and brilliantly followed Wintour’s lead in using the glamour of fashion and celebrity to raise money for the Fine Arts Museums, and this year she truly reached the pinnacle.

gwyneth paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow with Miranda Kerr and Sobia Shaikh

Also bringing an extra touch of fun to the evening was the appearance of Gwyneth Paltrow in a chic Antonio Berardi dress. She was in a cheerful mood and spent much of the evening chatting with Juliet de Baubigny (who was recently featured in Paltrow’s GOOP), Alison Pincus, Roger Barnett, Orlando Bloom and his wife, model Miranda Kerr.

gwyneth paltrow

Juliet de Baubigny, Trevor Traina, Gwyneth Paltrow, Roger Barnett

As we mentioned, Anna wasn’t the only woman wearing Balenciaga for the night. In original haute couture designed by Cristobal Balenciaga himself were Marissa Mayer (Balenciaga, 1957, from Decades), actress Maria Bello (Balenciaga, 1950), fashion connoisseur Christine Suppes (Balenciaga, 1951), vintage collector Joy Bianchi, Suzy Kellems Dominik (Balenciaga, 1961, from Lily et Cie) and Martha Brigham.

Jill D’Alessandro, Laura Mulleavy, Christine Suppes, and Frederic Aranda

Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Carolyne Zinko has the interesting background on Christine Suppes’ dress, which she donated to the Fine Arts Museums after the gala.

paula carano, hamish bowles

Paula Carano and Hamish Bowles

Those who wore contemporary Balenciaga, and vintage pieces that were re-created by the house, included Paula Carano, Sobia Shaikh, Miranda Kerr, Mia Wasikowska, Yurie Pascarella, Angelique Griepp, Jennifer Seibel Newsom, Elizabeth Touw, Katie Traina, Katie Schwab Paige, Kate Harbin and Emma Goltz.

Jeana Toney, Lisa Zanze, Elizabeth Touw, and Terri Mino

And even those who didn’t wear Balenciaga certainly dressed in a starkly elegant style that would have impressed the late designer, such as Vanessa Getty in a design by another genius of 20th century design, Madame Gres, Alison Pincus in Nina Ricci, Kate Chung in Chanel, Sloan Barnett in Christian Lacroix, Deepa Pakianathan in Jil Sander, and Alexis Traina in Dolce & Gabbana.

Alison Pincus in Nina Ricci with Roger Barnett

Stylist Marcy Carmack, who wore a beautiful Lyn Devon dress to the opening, was especially impressed by Alison Pincus’ elegant look, commenting about it on her blog that “Classical beauty is always in style.”

The Fisher Girls: Rose, Doris and Emma

jeremy stoppleman

Trevor Traina and Jeremy Stoppelman

Jennifer Raiser in Oscar de la Renta

Jennifer Raiser had one of the most dramatic looks of the evening, in a Spanish-inspired dress by Oscar de la Renta, who worked for Balenciaga. She also had the wittiest lines about the night, writing at SFwire.com that “For one fabulous Franciscan night, the reign of Spain was anything but plain.” Indeed! Oscar was the second most widely represented designer, worn by Dede Wilsey and Allison Speer, among others.

vanessa getty

Vanessa Getty, whom Hamish Bowles called “a living Venus”

christine suppes

Christine Suppes

katie traina

Katie Traina

lindsay boulton

Lindsay Bolton

maggie rizer

Maggie Rizer Mehran

marissa mayer

Marissa Mayer

samantha traina

Samantha Traina

Kelly Wearstler

Kelly Wearstler

At an event which included the most powerful woman in fashion, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and the world’s greatest collection of haute couture, one would think it difficult for a gal to make any special kind of impression, yet we must say that these women really stood out for their style and elegance. Aside from those already mentioned (Vanessa, Christine, Katie and Marissa), Lindsay Bolton, Maggie Rizer Mehran and Karen Caldwell (who designed their own dresses), Samantha Traina, Bita Daryabari, Isha Abdullah, Leigh Matthes, Kelsey Lamond, Kathryn Lasater, O.J. Shansby, Carol McNeill, Jenna Hunt, Susan Dunlevy, Sobia Shaikh, Mia Wasikowska, Kelly Wearstler, Gela Nash-Taylor, Pamela Skaist-Levy, and Becca Thrash captured the photographers’ lenses and certainly made it to the top of our Best Dressed list.

Designer Karen Caldwell and actress Mia Wasikowska

Christine Suppes, Hamish Bowles and Alexis Traina

Allison Speer and Sloan Barnett

Jenna Hunt, Susan Dunlevy and Sobia Shaikh

Andrea Schnitzer, Elizabeth Touw and Claudia Ross

Gela Nash-Taylor, Pamela Skaist-Levy

Isha Abdullah and Alan Malouf

Paula Carano

Angelique Griepp and Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Bita Daryabari

O. J. Shansby and Carol McNeill

Kathryn Lasater and Deepa Pakianathan

Leigh Matthes and Kelsey Lamond

Becca Thrash

Cameron Silver and Ricky Serbin

Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom

Dede Wilsey

We are so grateful to Diane ‘Dede’ Wilsey , Hamish Bowles, and the generous supporters of the Fine Arts Museums for bringing Balenciaga to San Francisco, where it will not only please the average museum-goer, but provide an unprecedented opportunity for local fashion students to study the genius of Cristobal Balenciaga up-close.

Exhibit Information: Famsf.org

Further Reading: