Potent Pairing

In a collaboration that no one saw coming, Gucci seems to finally be shifting gears

Did the Gucci show really happen? Is Gucci really 100? Why was Balenciaga the elder (104!) roped in to celebrate? Is this a tap-thy-stablemate’s-mind Gucci for the next century? Did your head not spin? Does Gucci need Balenciaga to—finally—look this interesting? Are they not able to reinvent themselves on their own? Is this Balenciaga doing Gucci? A sort of guest editor? Or Gucci in homage mode? Or an expression of Alessandro Michele’s desire to do Balenciaga? Do we need a Balenciaga ‘Hourglass’ bag with Gucci monogram? Or Gucci jackets with Balenciaga shoulders? Or Gucci-Balenciaga suits with the logotype of both brands littered on them, like department store gift wrappers? Or the familiar printed leggings-cum-boots chez Balenciaga? What’s a coat fastened to the extreme left a la Balenciaga doing in a Gucci collection? Or an asymmetric dress with a draped hemline so evocative of the B appearing in a show (still) typical of the G?

Is the world we are living in now not confusing enough?

The action takes place in supposedly London’s Savoy Hotel, imagined as a club with a catwalk and a secret garden. The music is not house (as has been the choice of the season at other houses), but a mish-mash that is a narcissistic bang at Gucci as narcotic, from Lil Pump’s yo-bro chorus of “Gucci gang” to Tita von Tesse’s tease on Die Antwood’s “Gucci coochie”. And there is a lot to analyse and unpack. But we may risk misreading everything. Mr Michele is, of course, no stranger to collaboration (the allegedly sold-out collab with The North Face, the most recent). He is also quite the plunderer of the past and cultures not his own. This collection, conversely called “Aria” (essentially an operatic solo), although a “pop” version, looks to the past, to self, and to contemporaries in a show that seems to salute whatever deserves to be hailed. A greatest hits of Gucci’s own legacy, the now fashion culture that the house is largely part of, and the design contributions of another equally iconoclastic, if not more, label. As Mr Michele said, post-show, to the media, “I have been an excellent thief, a robber.”

This is not the Gucci we are used to. It’s less geeky (except some of the models), less foolish (except, maybe the accessories), and even less irreverent (except, again, the accessories). Could this be Mr Michele’s tame side; he on the periphery of reasonableness? The clothes do not look too vintage-y (the retro vibe cannot, of course, be totally rid of) nor do they deliberately look as though sourced from the Salvation Army. We keep seeking out Balenciaga, but the partnership is not so much the two designers coming together to design the collection as one expressing love for the work of another. This is not the same as, say, Dries van Noten and Christian Lacroix in 2019. Or, contemporaneously, Valentino and Undercover. And definitely not Miuccia Prada with Raf Simons (no way!). Rather, Mr Michele “quoted” Demna Gvasalia, according to the show notes, not copied. Euphemistic talk no doubt, but it makes the results very much Mr Michele’s singular doing. Apparently, he was granted permission by his Georgian Kering associate to create hacks of Balenciaga’s distinctive silhouettes for both the ready-to-wear and the leather goods. This truly speaks of the creative culture of today, when Balenciaga can be treated like Ikea. Replete with rhinestones and marabou!

The references make for absorbing viewing. For so long (it has been more than half a decade of Alessandro Michele’s tenure!), Gucci has been frustratingly predictable that we wanted to really not dislike this collection. Sure, we do not expect Gucci to suddenly become unprovocative. We want their fans to go on being enamoured. It is inevitable there is enough camp to keep both Harry Styles and Jared Leto delighted and sufficient logos and indeterminate forms to keep Billie Eillish coming back for more. And adequate 70s disco glam (glittered cowl-neck top for men!) to get night owls ready for the day when bars and club can open. At the same time, it is refreshing to see that some of the tailoring is ‘classic’ and that the clothes sit well; the oversized is not actually ill-fitting. And the return of equestrian details, even if they are harnesses for chests or saddles for shoulders—not so barefaced since Dawn Mello was hired to revive the brand in 1989. But we are not sure if we are used to seeing Balenciaga’s extraordinary (less so now), offbeat (that, too) shapes within the kooky universe—including a near-obsession with body parts held in the hand, such as this season’s glittery minaudières of anatomically-correct heart—that is the only Gucci that fashionistas know.

But Mr Michele did not only pay homage to Balenciaga, he also saluted fashion’s patriarch of sexy who changed Gucci forever, Tom Ford (totally snubbing John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti, and, unsurprisingly, Frida Giannini). The first suit that appeared will always be associated with Mr Ford: in red velvet, and worn with a baby blue shirt, with two buttons deliberately undone. Thankfully, none of the pre-wokeness “porno chic” was revived. That Mr Ford’s designs could be easily riffed—er, hacked—is understandable: Mr Michele and the Texan designer/film maker have a maximal love of the ’70s, even when both dance on opposite ends—one with a deep reverence for the elegance of Halston, the other with the ardour for the hipness of the hippies. The Tom Ford-era suits, now with reshaped shoulders, have the sexed-up dapper cool associated with the oddball individuality of Balenciaga, rather than something akin to those in forgotten wardrobes of Haight-Ashbury. Mr Ford is relevant again.

In most cities, dance clubs are closed, but luxury fashion seems eager for them to open or to be looking forward to the mirrored ball spinning again. The just-concluded Dior pre-fall 2021 show in Shanghai is illustrative. At Gucci, the models, flanked by flash lights, finish their catwalk routine and move to a holding area (gosh, we are thinking of Prada. Again!). But rather than ending their job there, they are led by one of them, who opens a massive door, into a garden. There, they danced among white horses—interestingly, without saddlery—and albino peacocks. Very soon, as the frolicking suggests, the world can parallel Peter Pan’s. Perhaps, Alessandro Michele, in his mind, is singing I will Survive.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Gucci

Next Collab: Gucciaga?

Two brands, totally unrecognisable from the original, are said to be teaming up. Yikes!

The pairing of Gucci and Balenciaga as we imagine it. Illustration: Just So

Alessandro Michele is on a collaboration roll. According to WWD, he and Demna Gvasalia are rumoured to be bringing Gucci and Balenciaga together. Not unimaginable since both brands are luxury conglomerate Kering’s cash cows. They are destined to make more money together. Gucci will be showing its new collection Aria on Thursday and that’s when the said collab will be unveiled. Both designers have kept mum about their partnership.

A brand that was once a couture house now joins with another that was started as a leather goods shop: that’s an interesting alignment. Would this be fashion’s ultimate high-low pairing? The coupling of royalty and Hollywood (and a spill-all to follow)? Mr Michele has said that “seasonalities” are “worn-out ritual(s)”. Collaborations, apparently not. Will this show that Michele Alessandro is better at sussing out hot collabs than Kim Jones?

Stay tuned to find out.

People, Press Play

Balenciaga’s video-game-in-place-of-fashion-show is, for now, gimmicky

Fashion shows—are they not pre-autumn/winter 2020 season? That seemed such a distance away. Since the last shows of that time (in Paris, to us), things have changed drastically for fashion, both for businesses and the people who consume them. The runway, while still important for many luxury brands, is less the ideal platform to deliver and to watch when you know that, for now, models are waking as if for a dress rehearsal, since no audience is present (at Chanel’s Métiers D’art, there was one—never lonelier Kristen Stewart). Brands are looking at other ways to present their seasonal collections. Film is the platform of choice, especially at Gucci, with their pretentious seven-parter that is now mostly forgotten (who remembers what Harry Styles wore?).

Balenciaga, the first to present the autumn/winter 2021 season, has opted to show the new collection as a video game, The Age of Tomorrow (that would be, according to their press material, the year 2031). Now, this is not targeted at those whose closest companion is their Razor hardware, since it has barely the thrill and force of an actioner. Fashion has always been a game (there are always winners, aren’t there?), but this time it’s really one. Being a Pokemom Go deserter, we need an actual gamer to tell us how good the Balenciaga game is. Okay, this is no Grand Theft Auto, but we didn’t think it’d be this slumberous. As with role-playing games, you can choose your own avatar to move through the five “zones”. There are 50 of them avatars, as there are 50 looks (and each exactly like the character models), but for some reason we are not able to pick any. There is no selector button, or key.

The opening scene is a Balenciaga boutique “in the future”, sparsely stocked, designed as if for a dystopian world (it’s rather evocative of the brand’s Rue St. Honoré store in Paris). There are no sales people to welcome or help you. Just unspeaking (it’s all soundless here), unreacting models that turn to give you a 360-degree view of what they wear. We navigate this space on our own, with the guide of illuminated arrows on the floor. When we encounter a rack of clothes, we could not tap on it to see what items are hung on it. In fact, practically everything in this game is unresponsive. We enter a cold world, and we’re left cold. It is odd that a video game has such impassivity. Hoping for more excitement, we leave the boutique (after some hard navigation) and are brought to a backstreet that is worthy of Batman’s Gotham. All the while, we pass Balenciaga-clad people. Many get in our way. Then we are shown a bus stop. A bus arrives, and we’re whisk away. By now, we feel we have been taken for a ride.

You probably guess that we didn’t finish the game. Truth be told, as much as we were, at first, excited to play it, we lost interest barely minutes into into the first zone. The thing is, it’s kind of mindless. We don’t know what the purpose is, what the target is, or what to look out for. We’re just walking. To make matters worse, navigating it is not so simple (or instinctive). On the smartphone, there are two buttons for you to move forward and to look around. Both did not work smoothly. If you play the game on your PC, there are designated keys—W, A, S, D—for you to move in the rather dark world of the game. And your mouse will be temporarily disabled (you’d be told to press the ‘ESC’ button to bring back the cursor). Once you try to use the mouse during gameplay, the screen goes bonkers, or the action moves at warped speed. The game really feels like a test run.

Curious, and for us to be able to post this report, we decided to go back to the game to finish playing it. But we were greeted with a screen that seems to depict a galaxy. There is a digital timer in the middle that appears to be counting down. At the bottom, a discreet message reads: “You ended the game prematurely. If you’d like to start again, please come back later.” Returning to the game means an hour later. If you played to the end, a different message appears: “Congratulations, you have reached the highest level of digital enlightenment. If you’d like to start another game, please come later.” Despite the puffery, it all seems very dour to us. Balenciaga shows under Demna Gvasalia have never been chirpy and buoyant affairs. This game is even less so—in fact, somewhat downcast. We’re surprised Balenciaga did not do something along the lines of the #crabdance challenge, presently with 56 million views on TickTok.

It is too much work to just make out what is fashion. Is there such a thing as too immersive? The irony (it’s Balenciaga!) is, we didn’t really get to see the clothes. Unlike select editors and clients (reportedly 200 around the world), we were not privy to a virtual-reality runway show, viewed through a set of Oculus. We had to click on the lookbook link on the Balenciaga website to have a clearer view of the clothes. And these displayed what Mr Gvasalia has been doing for the house: loose silhouettes, low-brow-high-brow pairings, sportif shapes, fitted turtles necks and loose skirts or wide pants, jeans of ripped knees (and, now, torn posterior), more exaggerated puffer coats (floral too), and more Balenciaga-branded T-shirts (and some with the PS5 logo). We sense that because the clothes are meant to be in the context of a video game, with the somewhat futuristic description The Age of Tomorrow, the clothes have to be at least moderately sci-fi, which may explain some of the metallic guards for limps, as well as armour, and armour parts. Afterworld or afterthought, we don’t know.

Photos: Balenciaga

Balenciaga, As The World Nears Its End

In an already complicated, weather-changing existence, Demna Gvasalia continues to make clothes that boggle the mind. They are not easy to grasp or immediately likable, and therein lies his strength. And appeal

 

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It isn’t clear what the flooded runway means. Or the submerged front row. Is it a suggestion that fashion is now too inundated with the murky-good, or is it just Demna Gvasalia’s commentary on global warming and that cities, such as much-noticed Venice and overlooked Jakarta, are sinking? Perhaps he has more time to think of such things, now that he’s not designing Vetements. If so, he is showing, not telling, which seems wonted at other houses. Maybe, it’s best not to read too much into it and concentrate, instead, on the clothes. The staging at Balenciaga is always a conversation starter, but the clothes, more than that, encourage thinking, inspiring wonder and WTFs in equal measure. Last season’s parliamentary delegates seem to have given way to mourners and celebrants of the end of the world.

The show opened with dark, dark clothes that are a tad on the eerie side (some of the models wear red contact lenses, like Vin Diesel in Bloodshot!), so much so that some even called it “apocalyptic”, all fourteen (a number here in Asia considered inauspicious) are black until a brief shot of colour and then it’s mournful again and then hopeful, and the alternating rhythm continues. The solid blackness forces one to look at the clothes: the shapes, the silhouettes, or the fall (and the raised). Mr Gvasalia is a master of the silhouette. He goes from what in China was once proletarian to what in France is now the nostalgic-bourgeoisie. Between them, global left/right whatever. It can be hard, it can be soft, it can be punk, it can be pretty, there’s a dark edge to them all. This might have been Yohji Yamamoto if the designer stops coasting along.

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Mr Gvasalia’s designs not only make you consider the metaphors, they also urge you to look at them a little closer, like you would with art not rendered in the usual strokes, with the usual pigments. And like any work of emotional power, there are details that perhaps only you see and are delighted by. He’s also a tamperer, which means that what we expect to be at their usual places or placements are not: shoulders swoop, sleeves droop, neckline gape, plackets askew, cuffs hang. All within the silhouettes that are seriously clerical (monastic sounds too drab and abstemious), obliterating the wearers’ natural outlines and curves, like the robes of those who dedicate their lives to religion prefer to wear. Yet, one can discern a swash of couture: the collar that is also a hood and part of a cape, the generous gathers that forge the tented volumes, the oversized bows in the rear that do not tell if they hold the outfit or are there for effect.

But just as you thought this is going to be homage to the cassock and the like—contorted, they may be, Mr Gvasalia takes his usual off, off-centre route. The earlier shrouding in blockish shapes slowly gives way to the near-fantastical, an exaggeration that not only accentuates the body, but also, in the case of shoulders, forms acuminate shrugs. How they can stay up there, even on cable-knit sweaters, is a feat of cunning construction (not to mention the need for padding that won’t be found in your usual haberdashery). Pagoda shoulders have become veritable bargeboards akin to lamyongs at the end of Thai gables (especially true of the dresses). And just as there are those who want their bodies cloaked or who enjoy feeling undistinguished (when, in fact, they do), there are those who have no objection to the body-accentuating and the slinky—body stockings of perverse modesty.

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It is, in fact, in the tailoring that we find Mr Gvasalia express himself to a high degree. Is this a prelude to the proposed haute couture he will present in July? It is already known that he has a way with tailoring, especially in bending it—quite literally—to his will, often testing the limits of the lapels, its nape, and the shoulders this time: how far they could go. Or to what previously unexplored proportion, or to what extent of stress he can inflict on, say, the fulcrum of a jacket, traditionally positioned at the top button, below where the ends of the lapels meet. His pant or skirt suit, with the upturn of the lapel—even peaked—that can turn the jacket into a Nehru, with their pocket flaps affixed like Band Aid, with their rounded shoulders and judiciously padded hips make Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Bar suits decidedly child’s play.

For the guys, it’s a collection that will make Billie Eilish one happy customer. If you like looking hunched over, there are overcoats that afford such an effect with no effort. If you like mimicking the spines of the porcupine/hedgehog, there is a jacket with similar to protect you against predators. If you like satin shorts over track pants a la Superman’s undies over tights, there are those that will amuse your mates to no end. If you still like the logotype of Balenciaga, there is an abbreviated version minus all the vowels to make you still a collector. And if you like looking no more than your favourite football star, there are enough jerseys and shorts to make you appear like you perpetually camp out at Wembley, always close to footballers, only now, you carry clutches that look like jewellery boxes for your mother’s heirloom pieces or bento boxes for nori-whiskered Hello Kitty onigiri rice balls.

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

Balenciaga For After Brexit?

A commentary on Britain and Europe or just alluding to political theatre, Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga is probably winning at the polls as he disports with bold shapes and runs with it

 

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Whether fashion should have a blatant political voice is debatable, and whether Demna Gvasalia’s “Balenciaga parliament or assembly,” is shrewd or spoofy needs further examination. Yet, with so many components to both clothes and show that hint at politics and personalities, it is possible that Mr Gvasalia has affairs of state(s) in mind. We’re told he is exploring “power dressing and fashion uniforms”, both not necessarily related, but can pair up, which may explain those models kitted out as delegates of forgotten EU states. But, at first look, they appear to us parliamentary ushers, security personnel, Mdm Goh from accounts, the janitor on the way to work, even the Grab Food delivery person!

Mr Gvasalia, of course, has been partial to archetype, one rooted in the mundane and even nothingness. Under the guise of what the rest of us wear and consume, he modifies and refines familiar wardrobe pieces and gives them his spin on what Balenciaga means and constructs them in shapes not necessarily Balenciaga-eque, but shapes nonetheless. That they can be independent of the lines and curves of the body, with shoulders extending to there, add to their appeal. (Those old enough may recall a certain French designer called Claude Montana.) That, mostly, a small number of women consider these clothes attractive or enhancer of their femininity make them even more desirable.

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As usual, there is a lot to unpack, and what you get may not be immediately understood. By now, we know Mr Gvasalia does not make things easy for us (that could be his gift as a designer). Apart from the said archetypal styles, he seems enamoured with the clearly less haute, bent on re-expressing what should have been the ordinary. The puffer jacket (its current popularity in winter months can be attributed to the first he introduced for Balenciaga back in the long ago of 2016), for example, appears again. That it is for spring, no one really wonders why. That it looks like something a Shenyang road sweeper might wear to mimic the condition similar to Quasimodo’s, no eyebrows are raised, when they should be.

Irony is still the hallmark of Mr Gvasalia’s work and he does not hold back. While there are none similar to the DHL T-shirts he sent out for Vetements as its former designer, there are those that allow the wearer to declare that they’re “X-Rated”, “18+”, or a “Top Model”. Taking after familiar commercial logos, he fashions a new Balenciaga framed by two circles similar to Mastercard, which appears on clothes as well as credit-card-like earrings. An assurance that even after no longer designing Vetements, which he co-founded with his brother, Mr Gvasalia can still infuse Balenciaga with quirky banality.

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However, does parodying logos that identify products and such also include fabric treatments we have come to associate with a particular brand? There are those Issey Miyake/Pleats Please/Homme Plisse-looking dusters and blazers and shirts, slipped on as if the wearer has just picked one of them up from a suitcase of equally unpressed clothes (and ironing is not today’s habit!), that we aren’t sure are trenchancy or homage. More certain to us are the fluid dresses (by now a staple) of not-quite-simple prints: they have the potential of becoming the house signature the way the blazers (and the puffers) are so aligned with Mr Gvasalia’s vision for Balenciaga, nostalgic romaticism included.

For many influencer-attendees of the show, the last five dresses “stun”. These are ballgowns, quite literally, or almost half-balls, crinoline-supported skirts, moving with the rigidity of umbrellas designed to withstand the typhoon. In solid colours and devoid of decorations, they are nothing like their Victorian versions, which this quintet is possibly modelled after. The modernity is clear, even men can wear them, which would probably delight Billy Porter to no end. Somehow, the final three remind us of Grace Jones’s gown in the Jean-Paul Goude-directed music video for Slave to the Rhythm. Ms Jones emerged from the top of a black rotunda of a skirt with large coloured dots that seem to take after those on rainbow globe lights. Then and now share one common feature: simple, long-sleeved, upper halves. Could this be Demna Gvasalia returning to classics?

Photos: vogue.com/Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Two Of A Kind: Something’s Smelling Similar

If you can copy others, others can copy you too

 

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In fashion today, being ‘inspired’ by the work of others is quite a regular occurrence. Sometimes, designers slap the descriptor ‘irony’ to their ‘inspired’ work as aesthetic validity of nothing better to do than to embrace the banal. Reviving—or reliving—the past, an unceasing designer obsession, can be considered a stab at irony too since, oftentimes it is deliberate rehash. The ironic has become, sadly, as tired as the eclectic.

Demna Gvasalia, in recent memory, brought irony to the attention of a new generation of fashion consumers when he introduced the DHL T-shirt that can be had for at least half the salary of the courier man. That was in 2016. Irony has since become a bit tired, and rather meaningless, we dare say. Yet, Mr Gvasalia continued marching with irony, introducing, one after another, it’s-cool-because-it’s-not-cool items, the recent one being the above Balenciaga key ring with a pendant in the shape of a Christmas tree-shaped air freshener usually hung in cars.

At first, Balenciaga was getting a lot of social-media buzz for the key ring. Then, it was reported by TMZ that Balenciaga is being sued by The Car Freshener Company—maker of air fresheners that looked like shaped cardboard coasters—for using the company’s Little Trees shape without official consent. This is not an Ikea Fraktar moment for Balenciaga.

Not long after that, it came to our attention the existence of Little Trees-like, die-cut air freshener in the form of Balenciaga Triple S sneakers that included the brand’s logo. Can a cardboard cutout be considered a copy? These are marketed as a “collectible” by Indonesian company Hey La. Sold proudly as a home-grown product in such made-in-Indonesia-only stores as Localstrunk in Jakarta, the air freshener could be considered a product of the age of irony.

To be sure, the Triple S, in ‘Strawberry Bliss’ (not quite a scent you’d associate with expensive designer kicks), is not the only shoe silhouette air freshener manufacturer Hey La offers. There is the Adidas NMD and Stan Smith, as well as the Yeezy. So this could be a serious business that peddles irony. Not sure about the rest, but was Balenciaga’s permission sought? If not, will Kering sue? Or, will irony triumph in the end?

Photos: (left) Antonioli/Highsnobiety, (right) Zhao Xiangji

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?

 

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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?

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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.

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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

Three-Cornered Bag

Balenciaga bag AW 2018

By Mao Shan Wang

The triangle may not be the most obvious shape for a bag, but in the case of Balenciaga, that’s probably the point. So far, the brand that Demna Gvasalia has remade releases bags that seem to take a dig at regular carriers such as shopping bags. Their latest triangular handbag, conversely, appears to be inspired by something a lot more playful.

Such as a kid’s satchel? I remember seeing a rather similar shape at a housing estate trade fair, one that usually appears during in the weeks that lead up to a holiday, such as Christmas or Hari Raya. The bag that I now recall is in pink vinyl, with a scene from Frozen printed in the front. It hanged next to a ponderous-looking backpack in the same colour and of the same theme. Surely the stall-keeper must have thought that a girl who desires a backpack for school would like a matching handbag for after-school hours with her friends.

I can’t be sure that Mr Gvasalia saw the bag I did and was inspired, but I wouldn’t put it past him to single out something so kitschy or banal for ideas. Ikea’s Frakta carrier, I am sure, is still fresh in your mind. In fact, people are still carrying it as their regular tote, as if a season’s trendy irony never went away. Perhaps it did not, for the latest Balenciaga bag, known as the Triangle Medium Duffle, is in the same Ikea blue!

The bag feels a little strange in the hand, not because it is shaped like a photo corner and not because it is surprisingly rather light, but because it is stiff and small. In volume, it is probably as capacious as the 25-cm Hermès Kelly. In looks, however, it shares the same seriousness as a pair of platform Crocs that Balenciaga issued for the spring/summer 2018 season. Both are to be worn with humour and as counterpoint to the street style excess that’s getting a little too serious for its own good.

As it is a triangle with one point for the base, your prized possessions such as smartphone, battery bank, wallet, compact and such won’t lay flat at the bottom. They would have to be organised diagonally, which may cause some orientation problem when retrieving them. Ill organisation really means you have even less space to carry your life along with you. Do also note, the bag does not sit upright.

This bag reminds me of another bag: the almost-rectangular-but-quadrilateral Comme des Garçons X Beatles ‘Boat Bag’. The Balenciaga version is, of course, symmetrical, but both share something in common: they come from createurs who do not make fashion easy for their fans and users. Not that I mind.

Balenciaga Triangle Medium Duffle, SGD3,070, is available at Dover Street Market Singapore amd Belenciaga, Paragon. Photo: Jim Sim

The Superfluous Extra

What’s that hanging from your neck, a dead stingray?

By Ray Zhang

So, another Balenciaga item has outraged the online community: the T-shirt with a bibbed-on shirt. How thrilled Balenciaga’s social media managers must be. I mean, why bother to post when you don’t gun for a reaction, preferably one that borders on extremely strong disapproval. Censure has its advantages. It is what those who think they’re truly fashionable thrive on since wearing something the rest frown upon is deemed uncommon stylishness, or the stuff of fashion-week oomph. Besides, fashion for many—adopters or observers—isn’t quite fashion unless it is something outlandish, something you and I will point at and giggle at and scoff at, but won’t have on our backs.

I don’t know about you, but I feel we’re too easily provoked by these marketing ploys, these haha-I-got-yous. Balenciaga isn’t a greenhorn in the space of the #OOTD; they don’t post inane influencer photos to illicit “you’re so cute” gushiness. They want to provoke; they want to rouse vehement reactions. And you’ve given it to them. In turn, public reaction, even negative—better still, negative, becomes reason-to-buy for those who think nothing of scoring an over a thousand (SG) dollars sweatshirt so that people won’t miss the Balenciaga logo emblazoned in the back like a reclining Buddha.

Having said that, I do feel there’s something here that deserves more than casual observation or Twitter bitchery. The shirt on a T-shirt idea is not terribly new. Fans of Comme des Garçons will remember that the Japanese label has had two-in-ones (and hint of), as well as two-as-one in their collections before. Why, even our own Depression did not resist the temptation to mount one garment on another and sold them as single items.

Of course, in the case of Balenciaga, designer Demna Gvasalia has to have a point of differentiation. He made both of the two pieces—T-shirt and the connected-at-the-neck-shirt—wearable. Unlike Siamese twins, these are meant to be permanently conjoined. For the wearer, this is literally two-as-one (price wise, it is, naturally, two-for-two!): you can wear the tee and let the shirt hang out meaninglessly in the front. Or, wear the shirt and let the tee dangle at the back, like a child’s limp superhero cape. The truly imaginative will, of course, be able to think of the extra clothing’s usefulness: shirt in front can be handy when eating chilli crab; tee at the back perfect for those unfortunate times when the back of kopi tiam chairs are inexplicably dirty.

I am all for the two-in-one (or the idea of a two-in-one, as in a twofer), but I don’t see the creativity in the Balenciaga twinning except the needless contrariness. Nobody needs an extra piece of clothing hanging in the front or at the back. But, I suppose one impotent and ordinary shirt hanging on a T-shirt is less offensive than any of those downright rude messages slapped on tees that people now wear with such head-up pride.

Balenciaga T-Shirt Shirt, SGD1,800 is available at Balenciaga, Paragon. Photo: Balenciaga/Instagram

Big In Balenciaga

Balenciaga AW 2018 P1

How many coats do we need? Not that we, living near the equator, would really know, but if Balenciaga’s latest collection is to be accepted, quite a few. And not just for different days, but for wearing them at one go. Kiasuism (or should that be kiasiism?!) is well and alive, and has found its way to Paris, and is happily expounded by Demna Gvasalia. As it appears, you may not be warm enough until you look warm enough.

Or, perhaps, there aren’t that many. It’s just an illusion, as the Imagination song goes. Maybe they are simply more-than-twofers. It is possible they are fourfers, or maybe fivefers! We couldn’t tell from in front of our Surface Pro. The streaming was too well edited, and we were too amused, borderline entranced: Can outerwear look so delightfully monstrous— malformations that will do Victor Frankenstein proud?

Mr Gvasalia understands the importance of keeping the shapes of Balenciaga intriguing. The house was built on that. In fact, he has always made a statement in body-obscuring outerwear, the way other designers underscore the histrionic possibilities of gowns. Remember the oversized anoraks of his debut women’s collection around this time in 2016, or the weird, boxy, rigid coats of his first men’s wear collection not longer after? Big is key to Mr Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, misrepresenting the size of the body is the idea. Not Fernando Botero-big, but certainly Niki de Saint Phalle-distorted. The outerwear immediately gave the show (and subsequent ones) the imprimatur of youthful, if geeky, hipness.

Balenciaga AW 2018 G1

The distortion, in fact, can be likened to Cristobal Balenciaga’s imagining of silhouettes that broke away from what was considered appealing at that time. Looking back, the cocoon must have been rather shocking for women who were used to what came after Dior, but it was pivotal to the couturier’s exploration of the spaces between body and garment, which in itself can be traced to the east—to Japan, where the kimono, too, embody this complicated, ultimately sensual, relationship.

It is hard to resist the temptation of joining the dots between Mr Gvasalia’s outsized, warped outers and developments in the east. The over-layering seems to challenge the very notion that looking like a country-bumpkin cousin of the Michelin man is not really stylish. In fact, the idea of Uniqlo’s winter-travel must-have Heattech is to allow one to don fewer pieces or to trim down the volume, but that preference for bulk-reducing sleekness is now delightfully barred from Balenciaga’s doors.

In addition, those big jackets, teamed with scarves covering the head, truly remind us of the 1992 Zhang Yimou film The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司) in which Gong Li, playing the protagonist, goes to the city from her rural home in what, to her, must have been her finest threats, but were, in fact, her version of maternity wear, styled for the sophistication and snobbery of the city. Qiu Ju, as it appears now, was rather ahead of her time! What must costume designer Tong Huamiao, who was also behind Raise the Red Lantern (大红灯笼高高挂), be thinking now?

Balenciaga AW 2018 G2.jpg

The shape shifts/enhancements are also applied to blazers and overcoats—fairly straight forward styles with stiff, almost linear shoulders, but with rounded, unnaturally pronounced hips, a silhouette that debuted in Mr Gvasalia’s first collection for Balenciaga. We admit that, back then, we didn’t take to this strange constriction, as well as the exaggeration with delight. They appeared, at first gawk, like subjects of Velázquez’s painting adopting waist-down bumps for their riding coats. It truly looked odd, as if of another era, Spanish or not. The modestly panniered jackets appeared once more, but this time, they are like selfies—you get used to them.

Even the men’s jackets and coats have exaggerated hips, as if they’re some kind of cardboard cutouts for a new hour-glass ideal of the male species. Designers have been feminising men’s wear for many years, using fabrics and colours usually preferred for clothes with bust darts, and giving guys skirts—in some extreme cases, dresses—to wear. But nothing is perhaps more feminine that according a man prominent hips! A diminishing of conventional musculature, of primal motivations, and a visual leveler of the power between sexes that’s part of Balenciaga’s ‘agender’?

Perhaps, therein lies the newness: the man with child-bearing hips. Stud not! Sometimes, with Mr Gvasalia, you wonder if this is really a gag, or a detail to draw the sexes closer. Unisex designs have, till now, largely been about making clothes that align with men’s aesthetics rather than with women’s: that’s why unisex clothes have largely been shirts, T-shirts, hoodies, and pants, sized to accommodate the girls. It is rarely, if ever, the other way round: there are unisex shirts, but no unisex blouses. Is Mr Gvasalia making a point about gender rather than sex?

Balenciaga AW 2018 G3

For sure, it’s hard to say that Balenciaga is sexy. This season, however, the show opened with six short, body hugging dresses, but when the “Time’s Up”, it’s hard to look at these dresses and think that the wearer wants more than to look good. These are likely more merchandising anomaly than sexual aggression. Mr Gvasalia has made quirky-stylish-norm so much a part of Balenciaga that it is hard to imagine he’s doing an Anthony Vaccarello here. Sure, these clothes are not for clambakes or curry chicken potlucks, but they are far from taking the Tatler Ball by storm.

From the dad look to one that is mom-sy, Balenciaga sometimes appears to be Mr Gvasalia’s private joke. Take those pencil skirts, for example. The primness is underscored by their high-waist and past-the-knee length, yet the front overlap slit reveals an additional panel that looks like exposed, unlined inside, which, if one remembers, were once considered so unsightly that women had to wear petticoats under their skirts to conceal exposed hems and over-lock stitches. It’s now a design feature and it has a rather home-sew feel to it; yes, mom.

Balenciaga, in its new aesthetic form, was, admittedly, hard to digest in the beginning. The turning point for us here at SOTD was the spring/summer 2018 collection, now seen in the stores. We were sold on those seemingly plain work shirts and were even more taken, seeing them up-close, with the collar—button-down in the front (to the disapproval of the office sex pot, we’re sure), but gently scooped in the rear. That’s the beauty of Balenciaga now: it’s not so straightforward black and white, and, certainly, not front and back.

Photos: Balenciaga

Beautiful Balance At Balenciaga

Like many of you, we were initially rather perplexed by what Demna Gvasalia did at Balenciaga. Admittedly, it took us a while to get used to his idea of what Diana Vreeland referred to as “devastating”. “One fainted. One simply blew up and died,” she said of her favourite designer’s work. We’ve since died other deaths. Mr Gvasalia not only resuscitated Balenciaga, he brought us from the brink… of what, it is hard to say other than something associated with excess. He opened us up to possibilities, such as oddness, plainness, or the fit of garments—they don’t have to cling; they can fall away from the body. And they can look good.

He has made us realise that we do like fashion that is not easy, that makes us think, that makes us wonder how it’s all going to sit into the general scheme of things or fit with the rest of our wardrobe. Perhaps, by now, we’re used to his less-than-ordinary proportions and the jab at femininity, with results that baffle the opposite sex. Mr Gvasalia understands irony and subtlety and the non-so-subtle (such as logos) and how all can come together with as much lure as Facebook feeds, dissonant as they may be. And some of us are—eventually—sold.

The first look, so appealingly worn by Stella Tenant, immediately drew us into its un-Balenciaga androgyny. But there is something else at work here: something lowbrow. The striped shirt is ordinary-looking (buttoned-down!); it’s unadorned and it looks large enough to belong to a guy at home or work (the accounts department?). And the skirt—what our mothers used to call the “tight skirt”—is as unassuming as they come. We won’t be surprised if a school teacher or a HR manager lays claim to it. For added interest, a charm belt fastened with a key chain is hung low across the waist. “Re-purposed office wear”, they call it, and we thought office wear, as a product category, has all but disappeared.

Balenciaga SS 2018 G1Balenciaga SS 2018 G2

The shirts may have the appeal of Van Heusens, but those with prints of international banknotes could have been from Japan’s Don Quijote general store! If one charm can be attributed to Mr Gvasalia, it is in the unpredictable high-low stir that keeps many a fashion editor fascinated and craving. His modus operandi seems to suggest a deliberate avoidance of the Balenciaga archives; he gives the impression that he procures solely from the karang guni, or the French equivalent of the rag-and-bone man. Maddening and, at the same time, delightful is this mixed bag, this disparate sources of influence: you never can know where he’ll glean from next. Even when he tackles the crass and the kitsch (and he does), the method in his calculated madness (invariably considered “cool”) makes us reconsider the elegance we were brought up with—chuck it out of the window.

To date, this is Mr Gvasalia’s most elegant collection for Balenciaga, and a wearable one to boot. Elegance as sum effect may be meaningless to Millennials, but before we scoff at it as dated grace and style or fixation, we should consider the point that effortless ingenuity will eventually take the place of vulgar overkill. Sure, the Balenciaga of today can no longer be the “very soul of discretion”, as writer and chief curator of fashion and textiles at the Musée des Arts Décoratfs in Paris, Pamela Golbin, said, but it can still be looked to as arbiter of style with strength. Balenciaga today has captured the shape of things now, and possibly, to come.

On the surface, Mr Gvasalia may have disregarded the traditional Balenciaga shapes, but he has not abandoned shapes. Not one bit. Sure, these are not forms associated with the couture of yore, but they are those that ring as alluringly as a cocoon coat, only now they fall with an insouciance that is in step with a preference for the relaxed and the less studied.

Balenciaga SS 2018 G3Balenciaga SS 2018 G4

Despite the redefined shapes and the refreshing oddness, we sense a jolt of déjà vu: the newsprint pattern, which, although used differently, reminds us of John Galliano’s Dior and those coats that look like another is layered on top of each, a visual extra that has been seen at Comme des Garçons on more than one occasion. We are, however, not dismissing them as facsimiles. On the other hand, they make anew what’s been successfully birthed in much the same way his own Vetements breathed new life to trashy labels such Juicy Couture.

The fear-not-of-the-banal at Vetements is certainly brought along to Balenciaga. Just as you think that the haute bearing of the brand will be untarnished, out comes platform shoes by the crassest of crass footwear: Crocs. Its appearance towards the end of the show seems to give the collection the exclamation mark it does not need, but is fun to have—a ‘screamer’, as the exclamation mark is also known in the printing world. No one could imagine a campy Balenciaga, but no one expected it to be this delightfully twisted. We now wonder what it would be like if Demna Gvasalia takes over the house of Chanel. Now, that would be fun to witness.

Photos: Balenciaga

Awkward Elegance As Balenciaga Turns 100

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic intro

Cristóbal Balenciaga of the golden age of couture was a designer with a fondness for dramatic silhouettes. He created clothes with a sculptor’s eye, and manipulated shapes with a potter’s hand. He made black as chic as any colour (which itself is now the subject of an exhibition at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris). He redefined the space between fabric and the body by creating the tunic dress, the baby doll dress, and the cocoon coat. That daring was seeded 100 years ago when he, then aged 22, opened his first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain. And stunningly expressed 80 years ago, when his first couture house was established in Paris.

Cut to the present: autumn/winter 2017 season. Demna Gvasalia literally skewed his already off-beat proportion for Balenciaga. He showed outers with a centre-front buttoned to the shoulder, effectively challenging the traditional idea that a jacket’s pivot point (or break point) is in the middle. This, Mr Gvasalia told the media, was in response to many of the old Balenciaga photos that he had seen, in which women often held the front of their jacket that way.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 2

How this new way of wearing a jacket feels isn’t clear (unless you’re one of the models of the show) as there must have been a pull at the underarm area considering that the fore seam on one side would have been affected or shifted. From the video of the show posted online, the models did not look uncomfortable, perhaps because of the generous armhole and, in some cases, the oversized shoulder pads that Mr Gvasalia favours. The right side of the jacket worn across the body to the left had the effect of a blanket shawl swept aside. Will this distort catch on?

The off-centre shifts that Mr Gvasalia has made with Balenciaga no longer warp our view of what this storied house stands for. Maybe we’re getting used to them. Or, maybe, some semblance of elegance had pervaded Balenciaga and it was an appealing spread through. Despite the odd way to fasten an outer—also applied to a toggle coat, a pea coat, and a bubble coat (that was styled in such a way that the model looked like a gypsy awaiting the kindness of tourists during winter), Mr Gvasalia showed a surprising number of instantly appealing looks that made this collection his best to date.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 3

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 4

We will be the first to admit that when his Balenciaga first appeared, we were perplexed. But when your lenses are refocused, sometimes things become a little clearer, if not lucid. Now, with homage to hookers of yore rife at other French houses, Mr Gvasalia’s flying off on a tangent seems oddly appealing. We were especially drawn to the oversized pencil as well as pleated skirts, worn—rather, belted—in such a way that the excess fabric at the waist folded forward as a flap. There was a sense of nostalgia in the tented dresses that recall the couture master’s baby doll versions. Is imagining women actually wearing these approachable clothes a no-no? If not, let’s do.

Balenciaga in its heydays was the man to go to for women who wanted something special. The clothes that were made and bought were actually worn. If fashion lore is to be believed, the Countess von Bismarck, former Mona Harrison-Williams, the Kentucky-born socialite, wore only Balenciaga, even when gardening. If fashion legend Diana Vreeland is to be beloved, “The Kentucky Countess” ensconced herself in her Capri villa for three days when Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968—presumably, to mourn. Wearability was not taboo at the house of Balenciaga. If Mr Gvasalia’s latest season is any indication, he’s restoring Balenciaga’s to its rightful pro-customer place.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 5

As if to proof this point, he showed a capsule of nine dresses that was ode to the Balenciaga couture of yesteryear: the icing on the 100th anniversary cake. These would have been familiar to those enamoured with the Balenciaga of the ’50s and ’60s, such as the Countess von Bismarck, if not for the models’ streetwise gait. Although their carriage (did they even know they were wearing couture?) wasn’t the same as those from 80 years, these dresses won’t disappoint the camera-toting horde that is Mr Gvasalia’s peer.

Mainly updates of the baby doll, as well as the flounced and tiered dresses, they were made charmingly irreverent by the pairing of a matching, oversized shopping bag to each, reminding us that this was 2017. One standout design: a take on the Amphora gown of 1959, a totally chic lantern of a dress that deserves to be revived and appreciated. The spirit of Balenciaga lives, even if only momentarily.

Photos: (top) Balenciaga, (catwalk) indigital.tv