How would Demna Gvasalia undo the damage at the house he revitalised eight years ago? He kept resolutely to fashion, no gimmicks, or so it seemed
That the Balenciaga show was the most anticipated of the staged PFW events was the proverbial understatement. But this time, the expectancy is not for a new designer’s debut. Demna Gvasalia is still holding court. This was, by design, going to be a show like no other in his eight years with Balenciaga. This was a post-scandal, time-to-make-good exercise—redemption. This was, in effect, the maison saying they screwed up and that they were apologetic. The first show since last December’s explosive social media backlash, it was conceived to make peace with those who didn’t wait to jump at the label’s slightest misstep. While it may still be uncool in certain quarters (such as among reality TV stars) to support Balenciaga openly (the brand is certainly missing this film award season, not that Balenciaga is up Michele Yeoh’s now-spotlighted lorong), it was not the case among some stars, the press corps, hopeful business associates, and fervid supporters. This was a well-attended Balenciaga presentation—packed, as if nothing bad had happened before this. Balenciaga, now sans provocation, could possibly be vindicated, but will the past be forgotten, soon enough?
It was the most straightforward of Balenciaga shows under Mr Gvasalia’s watch. None of the theatrics of the snow or the mud of the recent past. This was a vanilla (also the colour) runway production in an exhibition space in Carrousel du Louvre, variously cool-and-then-not PFW show venue under the compounds of the Musée du Louvre that is also a shopping centre. But this is not unusual for Mr Gvasalia who is known to prefer common—even low-brow—locations. There were no sets or snaking configuration of the seating. It could be an ultra-large corporate meeting room. Even that would not be unusual. Last year, a shoot in what appeared to be an actual office landed the brand in trouble. But this time, no incriminating props. In fact, for the collection, Mr Gvasalia stayed clear of the cheesy, the cute, the weird, and concentrated on making extraordinary clothes. It was irony-lite too. And collab-less. Sneaker-bereft. As fashion goes, it was aboveboard. Barefaced Balenciaga, but logotype-free. And the models, the usual motley group that Mr Gvasalia prefers—were seemingly without make-up too (nothing TikTok filters can’t fix later?). On them, the clothes did not appear to go beyond the bounds of what he has brought to the house. Not that Mr Gvasalia stayed away from technique and crafting. Those qualities, in fact, did the talking.
First up was the tailoring or, specifically, the silhouette that has influenced practically everyone and every maison. The jackets were still wildly upsized, the shoulders extended—key in how Mr Gvasalia has been using the shoulder line to influence the jacket’s appearance—and the wider armhole that better kept its body away from the torso. That in themselves would not have been exceptional if not for the suggestion that tailored pants were used to make garments not intended for the waist downwards. The jackets, as well as coats, had waist bands at the hem, complete with belt loops and fastenings (without prong keepers, though), even button holes. As for the trousers or skirts that were teamed with the jackets and coats, they looked like upside-down versions of themselves, with extra legs on each side, flapping as the models walked (we could not see how they were fastened to the main garment). They reminded us of the two-in-one clothings of Y/Project—even their superfluous extras or additional parts were evocative of Comme des Garçons. Had Mr Gvasalia been a tad obvious that his world turned topsy-turvy? Especially after the teddy bears in dominatrix gear? Or, is this how mainstream weird has become?
Others by now considered conventional at Balenciaga included a just-as-oversized denim trucker with a low neckline for the collar or, in the case of other outers (some puffed up to look heaving), brought above the jawline, those fitted tops (interestingly, there were only two hoodies) and leggings, seemingly designed for skinny fellows (but they could easily be unisex), as well as those cover-a-lot, pleated dresses—this time, with what in our part of the world would be considered 水袖 (shuixiu or water sleeves), only theirs did not dust the floor. A couple of dresses had a half-cape on the right that concealed the sleeve and a bag that, for some reason, needed to be conspicuously hidden. There were the noticeably rounded shoulder treatment too, humped ‘pagoda’ that gave the wearer a slight shrug, even an aloofness. “I have decided to go back to my roots in fashion as well as to the roots of Balenciaga, which is making quality clothes — not making image or buzz,” Mr Gvasalia told Vogue recently. This was a show of constructional and engineering finesse or acumen, together with the guile at shifting the attention back to the designs. While the collection might have been emphatic of Balenciaga’s strength, it was hardly radical. It offered no guarantee that Netizens would be applauding and the lines will start to (re)form outside the stores. Let’s hope. Forgiveness is a good thing.
Screen shot (top): Balenciaga. Photos: gorunway.com