Not Better, Not Badder

Demna Gvasalia did not let up as he pushed forth with the old-world and dramatic shapes once associated with Balenciaga, but he appeared to be repeating himself. Or, were we seeing too many all-over-agains to tell the difference?

 

Balenciaga SS 2019 P1

What is it about passageways that designers love? (One more would later appear in Louis Vuitton’s presentation in the grounds of the already stunning Louvre.) It would seem that the catwalk, like the clothes, can also be trend-generating. And this season, a long, meandering passageway, first brought to our attention at the Gucci 2017 autumn/winter show, is the way to go. Video software-aided designs projected on walls appear to be on-trend too. Must fashion presentations these days be so immersive an experience that clothes by themselves wouldn’t be enough to engage the viewer? Sure, fashion has always been theatre, but there’s a nagging suspicion that stylistic content is so lacking that we now need visual aids (or distractions?) to augment the clothes. Sounds like the National Day Parade, does it not?

Balenciaga’s tunnel of dizzying, moving graphics designed by Jon Rafman, the Canadian digital artist known for using random Google Street View images for his somewhat bleak online exhibition of photo essays 9-Eyes, maybe awe-inspiring at first, but would, three minutes into the show, proved to be unnecessarily distracting. Did the invitees come to watch a fashion or video show? If the first five identical jacket-dresses were any indication, perhaps Demna Gvasalia was using the clothes as canvas for his personal message/visual noise, rather than the runway as the setting for the clothes. Could the flicking, changing, and disorienting images (including what appeared to be sea water, bringing to mind Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week) be telling us that in confusing times, we need uncomplicated clothes?

Balenciaga SS 2019 G1

Those suits-dresses (that could possibly double as a topcoat and worn unbuttoned to look less stuffy) shared a similar silhouette to the skirt suits that Mr Gvasalia introduced in his debut for Balenciaga in 2016. Now, however, the models were a lot less hunched forward in them, and the shoulders were a lot wider—being straighter, and a lot stronger—being squarer—literally. This tinkering with traditional tailoring has always been Mr Gvasalia’s strength, especially the skillful silhouette-shifting of at-first-look conservative, even old-fashioned, clothing into shapes that hint at couture, but minus the potential stuffiness.

To be sure, this was not the country-club tailoring for women who adore Ralph Lauren or tai-tai who admire Eleanor Young’s love of Giorgio Armani. It is in this fear-not of angular shoulders, rounded hips (but not constricted), and past-the-knee length that gives Balenciaga jackets, suits, and coats their immense, although man-repelling, pull. This may be be subversive to what constitutes tasteful and feminine tailoring, but it proposes that the tailleur need not be stuck in time or taste. This is not a conscious reaction against street style; this is not even merely re-writing the house codes. This is design, pure and simple.

Balenciaga SS 2019 G2.jpgBalenciaga SS 2019 G3.jpg

In addition to strong shoulders, there are the Balenciaga labels that you can have, perched on them. Labels, for a long time, are not obligated to remain on the inside of the centre-back of a garment. Mr Gvasalia has give them a pride of place where pirates of the past would have placed a faithful parrot. The logo has been a crucial part of Balenciaga’s current success, and the house will not forgo the opportunity to appeal to the post-adolescents who have been instrumental in making it a bastion of cool. So the name repeated all over a fabric seemed like an obvious option, but if you prefer something more fun and knowingly kitsch, there’s always the repeated pattern of the Eiffel Tower. You don’t get more French than that.

What could be touristy motifs aside, the complex cuts and draping ensured that there is nothing quiet about MrGvaslia’s collection. Some people consider these only moderately expressive clothes. And it is understandable when elsewhere, other designers prefer to holler than to hum. But even if the volume wasn’t turned up, it didn’t mean the collection was mute. The shirt-dresses, for example, had the smartness of what some might call office wear, but, with a drape of a sarong on one side, offered another possibility: resort ease. Diane Von Furstenburg could have been cursing that she didn’t think of that.

Photos: (main) Balenciaga live stream/(runway) indigital.tv

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