Balenciaga Ads: “Wrong Artistic Choice”

Demna Gvasalia finally reacts and apologises

In the past, European luxury houses could not get their advertising right for Asia. Now they can’t do it well for their own audience. For Balenciaga, the misstep struck twice. And the reactions to them have been by no means mild. Fans of Kim Kardashian were quick to point out how she, a Balenciaga fan and model (or the better-sounding “brand ambassador”), had been slow to say something. She eventually did, claiming she had been “re-evaluating” her relationship with the house. Five days after one of the problematic ads ‘Balenciaga Gift Shop’ was launched (16 November) and the disapproval (sometimes rabid) that followed, Balenciaga posted on Instagram, “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused…” In the mean time, country singer Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany Aldean was one of the first celebrities to show her unmistakable disapproval: she shared a post on IG showing her taking out the garbage in clear plastic bags. In them were Balenciaga merchandise. The comment read, “It’s trash day @balenciaga.” No one could be certain if she really discarded those items or if it was just a social-media stunt. The post was quickly deleted. Two days ago, Mrs Aldean shared another photo of herself in a leather jacket with the message: “A little fringe and Dolce never hurt nobody”.

And now Demna Gvasalia, like other designers before him, has apologised. On IG, he wrote under the header “Personal Message”: “I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them.” This came more than two weeks after the backlash unfurled. Still, it is a welcome move as no one in the industry that we spoke to believed that Balenciaga was not aware of “unapproved items” used, as stated in an earlier apology, or that no one in the company knew what was disseminated. And that they should be so aggrieved by the sum fallout that they initiated a USD25-million lawsuit against the companies that produced the advertisements for another campaign (Spring 2023 collection) containing those “unsettling documents”.

After Mr Gvasalia’s post, Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit apologised too, calling what happened in the past weeks “our mistakes” and sharing a list of corporate actions—“with the objective to learn from our mistakes”—that the company has instituted, including reorganising “our image department to ensure full alignment with our corporate guidelines”. Mr Charbit also revealed that Balenciaga “has decided not to pursue litigation”. No reason was given to the rescinding. Provocation is, of course, part of Balenciaga’s present-day appeal. But things could go unnecessarily far. Now, there is even the hashtag #CANCELBALENCIAGA (on TikTok, more than 120 million views have been clocked). Mr Gvasalia also said in his personal message, “As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.” Another day in the world of fashion. And the route to redemption.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Yeezy Come, Yeezy Go

Balenciaga is fleeing from Kanye West

We thought we have given enough juice to the rambling disturbance known as Kanye West. Frankly, we are quite bored with his BS (ostensible mental condition aside) and his desperate need to be taken seriously in fashion, and the destructive path he has created in order to secure some recognition. And the people he will hurt—even the dead—to do all that. We have enough of how every little thing could disquiet him, how everyone else has done him wrong, how he cannot be blamed, tamed, and managed. Some people say that we cannot deny that he has talent. So, we won’t: His is to overstate his own.

Disastrously for him, his talent has turned the brand Mr West deeply admires away from him. By now, the news is raging like bush fire, but it still merits sharing. Balenciaga, whose designer Mr West deems the greatest and who was instrumental in the early conception of the Yeezy clothing line, has announced that they want nothing to do with the raving rapper. According to WWD, Kering has issued a statement (after the media wondered why the parent company has remained audibly mum?) to announce their position: “Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”. The New York Times reported last month that Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga would go no further than what was completed.

Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”

Kering

This dramatic end, or what Mr West might call being cancelled, is perhaps not surprising after it was reported last week that Balenciaga has edited the video of their spring/summer 2023 PFW presentation shared online in which Mr West opened the show, tromping through the muddiest runway Paris ever saw by trimming his part off. The brand has also removed images on their social media showing Mr West in the said show as model, even on the widely-viewed Vogue Runway. And then on the Yeezy Gap website, you no longer find the “Engineered by Balenciaga” selling catchphrase spelled out at any point or corner. Balenciaga is getting serious about the break, even if, at first, surreptitiously.

The brand distancing themselves from Kanye West, however, is no indication that Demna Gvasalia needs to do the same. Mr West and Mr Gvasalia are thought to be “very close”. Their “bromance” is well documented. Last Week, The New York Times, citing “one insider”, reported that the Donda artiste “has been known to refer to himself as Demna’s straight husband”. Both men wanted to be called by their mononym at about the same time. After Mr West opened the Balenciaga show last month, Mr Gvasalia attended the YZY SZN 9 presentation in Paris. The Georgian designer told Vanity Fair last year following his first couture outing for Balenciaga, “There are very few people that I know, especially of that caliber, who really understand what I do.” The relationship between those two, although not entirely clear beyond the professional, is probably harder to untangle.

Update (22 October 2022, 15:00):

Anna Wintour And Vogue’s Turn

Looks like the world’s most powerful editor and her just-as-mighty magazine are taking a stand too: away from Kanye West. According to the New York Post’s Page Six, a Vogue spokesperson told the gossip site “exclusively” that Anna Wintour and her almost-synonymous title do not “intend to work with Kanye West again after his anti-Semitic rants and support for the White Lives Matter cause”. A “source” quoted by Page Six said, “Anna has had enough. She has made it very clear inside Vogue that Kanye is no longer part of the inner circle.” As of now, Vogue online has removed the review of the YZY SZN 9 show. A search on the website turned up the message: “Oops. The page you’re looking for cannot be found”. Writer Luke Leitch’s feature on Mr West seems to have been extirpated too. Ms Wintour has yet to state her position with regards to Mr West’s controversial comments and rants. She was last seen with John Galliano and Demna Gvasalia at the YZY SZN 9 show, but had reportedly left early. It is not known if she was in touch with Mr West after that.

Illustration: Just So, based on Line characters

(Still) Bleak At Balenciaga

A dark, dark, and muddy world, with a parade led by a self-destructive egomaniac

In a four-season world that is facing increasingly warm summers (with some cities reportedly skipping spring altogether), it is strange that at Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2023 show, the first model sent out is Kanye West (rumoured to be in Paris to present a Yeezy collection), bundled up like a ranger on some frigid war-torn settlement. In fact, on his multi-pocketed flak jacket, a label on the left chest reads “SECURITY”. Despite the hoodie over a cap which casts a shadow over his face, the bearded Mr West is still identifiable. He looks as he has been these past year, mostly dressed as if the places he visits are below zero degrees Celsius, even when it’s blazing. As he has explained before, he has the predilection to “dress like winter when it’s hot”. Perhaps that may explain why on Demna Gvasalia’s TikTok account, which shared a short video showing Mr West’s duration on the runway, the caption reads, “Ye is walking for Balenciaga winter 23”!

A friend of SOTD’s said that it could be a “typo”. Perhaps, but unlikely (the Balenciaga social media team won’t make such a mistake). Could it be an autumn/winter outfit made specially for Mr West to wear in summer that can serve as a preview for the season after? This is one Balenciaga customer/“friend of the house” with exacting needs, including a desperate one to be taken seriously by the fashion establishment. Mr West, in fact, looks like he could well be ready for the next Mad Max movie. A Black Road Warrior? And the set of the show matches: a wasteland of very wet mud. After last season’s snow, could this be what happens when the deep freeze thaws, but the war has not ended? In fact, Balenciaga calls this presentation The Mud Show. The set, with real mud dumped into a stadium (in the darkness, it could be a pile of dung), is designed by the Spanish performance/installation artist Santiago Sierra. A waterlogged path is created and on this boggy ground, the indigent-looking bunch (including dads with babies—they look fake—close to the chest), some of the models appear bruised (bashed?), trudge or march on, the hems of their gown and pants, and shoes, quickly dirtied by the muck.

The muddying is consistent with Balenciaga’s recent slew of ‘Destroyed’ garments and footwear. And there are more rips-as-destruction this season to better fit the misery and squalor of the world, seen through Demna Gvasalia’s eyes. If everything around us is falling apart, why not the clothes? The first victims of the tattering are, expectedly, the jeans; this time, also with severe rips in the rear, so extreme, some might consider them unwearable. There is defacement too—graffiti on the hoodies. All the disfiguring, according to Mr Gvasalia, required a “couple of days” more than making clothes that are not damaged. Just as there are the seriously destructed, there are those left whole and untarnished, until the mud gets to them. The dresses, which have won the brand consistent approval and yielded considerable influence, come in slinky jersey with the simplicity of a T-shirt or in fluid plissé that wrap the body protectively like a cape, stand out. However wrecked the world, there are those who chose to dress splendidly. Or in a patch-up of old handbags. In the last dress, a man (or a flat-chested woman?) wears a gown made of Balenciaga’s once sort-after Lariat bags. This could have appeared in the couture collection (along with those clothes made of old belts), but here it is, an unyielding outfit probably too difficult for a woman to wear.

As the models tread, some carry stuffed animals with handles (are they filled bags?) that could have been dropped as children flee whatever/whoever they were escaping from. These are carried by the strangely under-dressed: in hooded tops with scanty running shorts. Or those wearing belts with the width of cummerbunds. Some of the bags look like sacks or pillows, and others like trash bags (already a trending Balenciaga item). One style was most striking. It continues Mr Gvasalia’s passion for conjoining disparate things, such as Kim Kardashian’s favourite legging-boots (this season, there are trouser-heels!). New is the squarish, tote-glove or a tote with holes on the upper half through which the arm can slip into a single full-length glove attached. The models carry them on the shoulder, with arm-in-glove as one. This is perhaps an innovation that befits our penchant for the hybrid, the mixed up, the remixed, the crossbreed. No one wants to look coordinated this days when tattered complexity is a lot less restraining. As one SOTD reader texted us about the Balenciaga collection, “I think this is truly fashion for our times”. Kanye West agrees too. That’s why he is in the show. Better than walking for Dolce and Gabbana?

Screen shot: Balenciaga/YouTube. Photos: Balenciaga

Visited: Yeezy Gap

The Kanye West-steered sub-brand of the Gap has its own space in a Gap store at last. But there is no shelf, no table, no rack. Everything is placed in bulk bags. Like merchandise to be discarded, or incinerated

The Gap store in Times Square, New York

Kanye West is paving the way for the Gap, literally with bulk bags. At its inaugural IRL retail run, a “pop-up” inside the Gap in Times Square, the space dedicated to Mr West’s much-hyped partnership with America’s most recognisable mall brand is nothing like what you might expect. Outside, at the corner of Broadway and West 44th Street, the blue façade and its lighter blue box-logo are all unmistakably the Gap. On the roof, above the large three-letter name are two billboards—one of a dove in flight, the other, a still, dark spectre—that stand ominously. Inside, it is just as sinister: In a narrow space the width of a hospital corridor, it is all black and dimly lit (low-light ambience even Abercrombie and Fitch has abandoned), like an entryway to a secret lair. Only this is not an unremarkable passage. This is where the hottest and most anticipated collaboration is sold, shockingly in those typically one-ton (here, they seem more capacious) receptacle of polypropylene for packing and moving goods, all two dozens of them. This could be easily a receiving bay, if not a dump site.

After two years of considerable hype, inconsistent drops, and online-only availability, the Yeezy Gap, presently “Engineered by Balenciaga”, retail space opened last Thursday to long queues. To avoid the possible crush, we visited the store on a Monday afternoon. It was not busy. But it was not the lack of a crowd that hit us immediately, like a slap (such as this one); it was the strange grimness. This is the highlight of summer shopping? This is the Gap? There is more cheer in a Yohji Yamamoto store. We knew there would be a predominance of black, but this drabness and gloominess? And what’s worse, those waist-high, black sacks on the floor! Walk into the store and they are on the right, placed in two rows, like oil drums, in the middle of the passage. It’s like visiting a wholesale market for secondhand clothes. You walk around the bags and look inside them to find what you want. And you have to rummage to find your size. This is worse than excavating a sales wagon at the OG Orchard closing down clearance.

Two rows of bulk bags in which you are encouraged to dig into

We were not the only ones shocked by the refuse point. One Black guy was heard saying to his buddy, who looked like he stepped out of the rooftop billboard: “Are they kidding? Trash bags?” Our photographer, who visited the store earlier said, “it was very unnerving for me to see the black bags in the black surroundings. Can you imagine what it would be like for the tourists?” The containers already looked a mess when we approached, even when there were six staffers folding the clothes and arranging, and returning them to the rightful vessel, tagged with images of the garment that reside in it and the price, after customers have finished with one and moved to the next. There was an unmistakable lack of allure, but since we were there, we thought we should just join the unconventional way of shopping for clothes and just dig, like everyone else. But, we kept thinking of meigancai (梅干菜, dried pickled Chinese mustard) in Albert Centre Wholesale Market. There is something menial about going through the clothes in this manner, too. No pleasure.

We looked at a mock turtleneck T-shirt with a surprisingly tiny white Gap logotype right in the centre, about 5 cm below the neckline. For some reason, the tees are made of very thick cotton jersey (and it was 28°C outside). A pile of, say, five of them is heavy to lift. A woman, frustrated by the hard work she had to do, muttered, “why is everything so fucking heavy?”. To see what what we were digging, we had to bend over the bags’ massive opening. After three minutes, it was too much. One of us decided to try a T-shirt, for the heck of it. At US$140 a piece (or more for other styles), they were rather hard to swallow. We picked the simplest: the mock turtleneck. The fabric was disturbingly thick. No one around us, we noticed, wore anything that heavy, except the staff. When we pulled the top down over our head, it was stuck; when we yanked harder, we thought we popped the stitching on the neckline! Why was it this tight?

Each bag is tagged with illustrations of the style of the garment as well as a number—the price

When we managed to remove the T-shirt, we noted that the neck was ribbed, but why was there the poor “stretch and recovery”, to borrow from production speak? The problem, it appeared to us, was technical: Somehow, Mr West and his team decided on this heavy fabric, and the rib on the neck had no Spandex in it. With possibly mis-calibrated knitting tension, the rib is limp and won’t stretch sufficiently. When we brought this up with a former Gap merchandiser, he was surprised that that could happen. “Is this the Gap we’re talking about here? They do the neck stretch test there (they invented it!), even for children’s clothes!” As for the heavy jersey, one designer told us that this has been the fabric choice—the dry-touch compact jersey that is rather ’70s—for many brands wanting to appear “luxe”, but “luxe,” he added, “does not need to be heavy.”

We did not want to look into the other bags—they were all equally uninviting. There is so much you’d wish to do if the Gap made you feel like you’re at a quartermaster’s retrieving uniforms. It is possible that Mr West wanted to create uniforms for his tribe of eager followers and, in due course, improve the sagging fortunes of the Gap. But these clothes are not the one-time uniforms of teens craving the Gap’s ubiquitous jeans and graphic tees. A far cry from what the Times Square website describes on it pages: “clean, classic and comfortable clothing”. When we first saw the pieces on the Yeezy Gap website, it is clear the line is aesthetically apart from the 52-year-old American brand to which it owes half its name. The Gap has lost its mojo for so long that even fans do not remember when they last brought anything from them (all Gap stores here closed in 2018). The brand needed a life buoy and it was tossed one. Kanye West could, apparently, be to the Gap what Alessandro Michele is to Gucci. So he got the job.

Quite a sea of clothes dumped in those bulk bags

But in the first 18 months of the collab, just two products—one puffer and one hoodie—were made available and only online. Compounding that, the e-retail model was troubled by missed datelines, low stocks, and late deliveries. Mr West seemed to need a life buoy too. So pal Demna Gvasalia came to the rescue and became co-conspirator, an unsurprising turn as the two desire to dominate the fashion world with their oversized, body/face-obscuring clothes. Additionally, Mr West announced on social media not too long ago that he had already spent US$4 million at Balenciaga so far this year (how much more before this is unknown. The former wife’s and daughter’s bill were not tallied either). Why not allow Balenciaga to make more by getting them to “engineer” Yeezy Gap? Speaking to The New York Times recently, Mr Gvasalia revealed that he wanted “to create a solid foundation for Ye’s aesthetic on which they can now build”. The paper also reported that Mr Gvasalia was “engineering the prototypes in the Balenciaga studios in Paris and Zurich”. Most of us already knew the clothes were based on Balenciaga blocks.

Kanye West might have been too busy to see Yeezy Gap through. After the partnership was announced, he ran for the US presidency, saved his marriage (tried to), insulted his ex’s boyfriend, and put out the album Donda, whose overall visual was co-conceived with Demna Gvasalia. Was he too busy to handle Yeezy Gap on his own unaided? Or was he, as the rumours flew, really unschooled in fashion design for a mass brand? According to the photographer Nick Knight, who also spoke to NYT, “if he wants to spend a year looking into the colour blue, we’ll spend a year looking into the colour blue, which is extremely inspiring when so often schedules take priority over creativity. He doesn’t see himself in any way constrained by deadlines or seasons. I don’t think he would even use the word ‘collection’ for what he is doing.” Mr West, in other words, marches to his very own Roland drum beat.

Digital screens to welcome you: The Yeezy Gap metaverse that apparently is taken from a related computer game

Moving to the back of the dedicated space for Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga, we saw that provision was made for the line that was expected to form at the cashier’s counter, which was just as black as the rest of the store. The rear wall, where a video screen was installed, was dark this afternoon (another two screens to the left of the entrance were aglow with some sky-like background, in front of which two avatars were dancing/spinning in mid-air). We stood comfortably in the quieter rear and sized up the near-monochromatic tableau before us. The shoppers were mostly male, dressed unmistakably in what Mr West desires them to: oversized tops and bottoms. Many gravitated to the T-shirts, with which they could probably at last enter the expensive world of Balenciaga, whose very temple of cool is about 1.5 kilometres away on Madison Avenue. This was far more accessible, and the clothes could be binned when desire, for some reason, was not aroused.

As we were leaving the store, more people dashed in excitedly, like they were approaching some concert merchandise. Would they leave as disappointed as we did? Stepping out into the afternoon warmth, we thought of that thick jersey T-shirt again. For the higher-than-the-Gap prices that Yeezy Gap charges, what incredible experience did the store offer or was it just the letdown that was indelible? It was hard to imagine that this would be how the Gap intends to move forward or ensnare the unconverted. One Singaporean working in New York later told us that he was “completely turned off by the experience” and that he could see a “stark disconnect with mainstream Gap”. When we asked him if it could be just some high concept that escaped him, he replied, with palpable disdain, “high concept, my pantat!”

Yeezy Gap is at the Gap, 1514 Broadway, New York City. Photos: HL See for SOTD

The Only One

Is Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia the sole modernist in the still-rarified world of haute couture?

Shortly after the Balenciaga couture presentation ended, the Twittersphere was abuzz with delight that walking the runway were Nicole Kidman, Dua Lipa, and, not admirably, Kim Kardashian and, even less so, Naomi Campbell. Like many watching the sole show of the season that was worth waiting for, we took it in in front of our PC monitor (smartphone screens are too small for couture!). We were enraptured up to the segment where full face-visors (the show opened with them) were not used, and models bared their foreheads to chins. Even that was fine, until Ms Lipa appeared, followed by Ms Kardashian, and Ms Kidman, and, almost towards the end, Ms Campbell. Before these women sauntered in, we were able to concentrate on the clothes and to marvel at the rigours of Mr Gvasalia’s sharp lines and silhouettes. Then the celebrity appearances interrupted our concentration. We were not expecting to see them and, as we wondered what they were doing on the show floor, we were distracted, in particular by the half-smiling but blank-faced Kim Kardashian, who looked like she should be seated viewing than ill at ease (cat)walking.

Dubbed the 51st, but only Demna Gvasalia’s second, Balenciaga’s single-season couture collection roused the imagination made torpid by other shows of the week that were contented with the tiresome duo of fantasy and romance. Mr Gvasalia returned couture to its place on the pedestal (and why should it not be there?), on which his stark artistry was augmented with cuts (precise and, sometimes, brutal), the outré (but, by now, not quite), and the drama (missing in couture, and much welcome). His is work so exact and exceptional that it is anomalous in the present desire among those who design with “practical considerations” for the “pragmatic needs” of their clients. In couture, you don’t know what you truly require until you see them. You don’t know the desirability of a sumptuous carapace-like cape until you witness it, in sensational form on the runway. Or the want of a T-shirt, crushed and with the hem rough-hewed upwards, even to wear to go buy milk, until you look at it in its typhoon-swept suspension. When the imagination is fed, the need is found.

The show started with some very stark looks—eight of them, all black—that second-skinned the body. The sculpted tailoring was almost extreme, made possible by a new form of neoprene (itself a very mouldable fabric), very smooth, based on limestone and created by the Japanese to be Mr Gvasalia’s own Gazar, the silk once exclusively made for Balenciaga in 1958. The shoulders of the pieces were beautifully rounded and the waist just nipped-in—effecting a silhouette that was almost traditional, but looked futuristic in its imperturbable sleekness, and especially when worn with those face-visors, developed with engineers of the Mercedes-Benz racing team that would not be out of place in the game Cyberpunk 2077. A suitable oddity (that, too, has been missing in couture) to pair with those face wear were the Bang & Olufsen X Balenciaga Couture “speaker bag”, petite boom box that plays music, we suspect, wirelessly from your smartphone, stashed away on the opposite side of the speaker that opened like a conventional handbag!

With Mr Gvasalia, couture was not just about techniques, embellishment, or man hours, it was about precision too. The exactness of form is compelling. One red dress, with a T-shaped dart in the centre to yield a beautifully fitted bodice (it was repeated for a few of the dresses), flared in the rear with cuneate extensions, like wings, but they barely budged, which made them appear more like vertical airplane flaps. Elsewhere, a hot pink gown, with a striking symmetry in the front, was fashioned with a top of the back that opened like a half-cone, but looked like a hoodie—the slanting dorsal line ending just above the hollow behind the knee. It was triangular-angular of immense mathematical flair. Even the outerwear were not the obligatory trench coats: mackintosh-looking with spread collars turned-up to frame the cyborg face. To align with the existent call for environmental-friendly dressmaking practices, upcycled denim were used to express Mr Gvasalia’s on-going preoccupation with the upsized silhouette, but within which, all the painful couture handwork could be circumscribed. And in case you were too delighted by the street leaning, he pulled you back with massive crinoline skirts, so huge that even one model nearly tripped navigating the by-then treacherous runway. Perhaps the beauty of Balenciaga couture is that you teeter in the clothes. And when you do need them, you, too, require a certain posture, a certain élégance, a way with carrying the veritable sculptures. Such is the joy, even from mere watching.

Screen shot (top): balenciagacouture.com. Photos: Balenciaga Couture

The Previews Of Balenciaga’s Cruise 2023

Kim Kardashian is a fan of Balenciaga and a friend of Demna Gvasalia. Since August last year, she has been helping the brand and its créateur preview what would become the key look of the current Balenciaga cruise collection

All covered. (Clockwise from top left): Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala in September 2021, three days earlier, a possible sneak peak at what she was to wear, the earliest head-to-toe body suit in August 2021, and in Prada, February this year. Photos: kimkardashian/Instagram

The recent Balenciaga cruise 2023 showed how “terrifying” the world that we currently inhabit is when Demna Gvasalia sent out models with latex head/face coverings that were once associated with luchadors (Spanish for masked pro-wrestlers). Every one of them on the runway in the New York Stock Exchange had their faces completely covered (some even their eyes when sunglasses were worn) as if they were performing in a wrestling ring. While this obscuring of the face became the talking point (more than the clothes, except those from the collab with Adidas), it was not without precedence in the shifting shape of pandemic-era fashion. In fact, Kim Kardashian has been ahead of the curve. With the help of Mr Gvasalia and—no less—her ex-husband Kanye West, Ms Kardashian availed herself as model experiment to push Mr Gvasalia’s ideas of representing the world’s multi-form terror, including, possibly in fashion.

Ms Kardashian made the most news when she showed up like an apparition, all black and ghostly and faceless, at last year’s Met Gala in a Balenciaga get-up. She stole the show. No omelette dress could come close to the stark spectral showiness. Despite its news-making outcome, Ms Kardashian told Vogue in February this year that she “fought against it”. It is understandable that she would. “Why would I want to cover my face?” The reality star is known primarily for her leave-nothing-to-the-imagination outfits. This total cover-up was more extreme than what the Taliban would have expected. According to her, “Demna and the team were like, ‘This is a costume gala. This is not a Vanity Fair party where everyone looks beautiful‘.“

The reality star is known primarily for her leave-nothing-to-the-imagination outfits. This total cover-up was more extreme than what the Taliban would have expected

Her reluctance, while comprehensible, is puzzling too. In August last year, a month before the Met Gala, she shared on Instagram a photo of her in a Balenciaga all-covered look, seen at a Donda event (she even had her kids with her). Three days before her appearance on the stairs of the Met, she was out in an outfit that would turn out to be very similar to those revealed at the Balenciaga cruise show. Was she already wearing the sample pieces then? After she debuted as host on Saturday Night Live, looking upholstered, Ms Kardashian was photographed in a set of hot pink coveralls, with her face again obscured (even the heels attached to the legging are by now familiar), suggesting that breathing, for her, seemed increasingly secondary. Close to half a dozen (or more) similar outfits were noted. In the business of digital gadgets, what she did would be considered “leaks”.

Even the Balenciaga autumn/winter show, despite its visual commentary on the Russo-Ukrainian war, did not give a clue of the reflection of terror to come, or total face covering. While Mr Gvasalia is not known for the bare-skin sexiness associated with, say, LaQuan Smith, his latest proposal for Balenciaga is the total opposite of sartorial emancipation, the antithesis of free-the-nipple enthusiasm, and contradiction to the believe that women really want to show more skin and exaggerated makeup, a la Julia Fox. Or, is this a sign that Mr Gvasalia never left the sphere of irony that he built, one that could be traced to the halcyon days of Vetements? Now that covering half the face is commonly seen, is the total concealment of the head the next new normal? Balenciaga would be truly prescient then.

Balenciaga Is Bullish

Demna Gvasalia showed his Balenciaga cruise show at the New York Stock Exchange to the suggestion that the brand’s strength is still on the rise. More face/body obscuring looks, anyone?

On Friday, the day before the New York Stock Exchange closed for the weekend, during which Balenciaga could prep for their show on Sunday morning (New York time), Wall Street teetered disconcertingly to the rim of a bear market. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both showed figures that were their seventh straight week of losses—their most protracted defeating streak since the end of the dotcom bubble in 2001. But inside the NYSE two days later, the mood was rather different, bullish even. The Balenciaga cruise show was staged here, on the trading floor, with their attendant screens ominously flashing what appeared to be trading numbers, as if hackers had struck. Some screens showed the logos of enterprises as diverse as The Disney Company and Pfizer. Whether this was a commentary on wealth or greed, it is hard to say. Or a vote of confidence in the US market? The music pulsing through the space was not the usual clatter of a trading day. Rather, it was urgent techno thrust (there was the opening bell, of course) sandwiched between what sounded like Carey Mulligan’s rendition of New York New York on the 2012 film Shame.

But it was not guilt or humiliation that emanated from the models’ totally obscured faces, via full-cover masks or bodysuits. It was a show of terror. Or, as Demna Gvasalia said to the media, “We live in a terrifying world, and I think fashion is a reflection of that.” On a regular trading day, we doubt anyone so extremely covered would be allowed into the NYSE building, let alone the trading floor. But there they were, in full-face/head masks, not mere balaclavas, strutting to the pulsating beat, like a bunch of rookie robbers filing into a bank to execute a heist. Or, walking mannequins. Has fashion become so visibly accessible and democratic that we must now obscure the wearer’s very being in order to stand out, and be apart from every pretty face on social media? Or do we now have to look macabre and menacing (even pussy bows could not soften the looks) to forge an elegance that’s so terrifying that fashion can be really reckoned?

By now, what Mr Gvasalia proposes for Balenciaga is, of course, not frightening. Or even threatening. His severe aesthetics have, after all, survived the red carpet. At the Met Gala last year, Kim Kardashian, you’ll remember, “rewrote the red carpet’s rules” (were there any?), according to Vogue, when she appeared in a Balenciaga-conceived, (literally) head-to-toe outfit that covered every centimetre of her unmistakable body. Three days earlier, she, too, was just-as-encased in a leather bodysuit with attached face/head cover under a matching trench coat. If Ms Kardiashian, who has no qualms about baring her body publicly, would be willing to be so tightly sheathed, it is possible that many women would just as gladly be so utterly covered. So Balenciaga, anticipating its influence, put out similarly wrapped looks for its latest collection. The clothes really require no description or introduction. All the Balenciaga tropes that Mr Gvasalia have introduced, from shoulders to shoes, that you are familiar with are there. They continue with the designer’s conviction to anti-fashion, ant-fit, anti-genteel, anti-subtle, anti-girly, anti-sexy.

And then there was the more real and less intimidating Balenciaga X Adidas. It is not known what deal Adidas has struck with Kering, but this would be the second of the conglomerate’s brands to collaborate with the sports name, after Gucci. While Mr Gvasalia remained true to his preference for the oversized and the baggy, and the less retro, the pieces do share something common with Gucci: the look-at-me sportiness, now considered the true achievement of performance wear. Even sports clothes need to be elevated. And just in case interests in these wane too quickly (and they just might), some 34 pieces from the collaboration are available for pre-order, from now to 29 May, with the lowest asking price of SGD275 for a pair of socks (the cheapest T-shirt, you may wish to know, is USD995). These days the ‘entry-level’ is shown alongside the main. Marketing cleverness has a legitimate space next to design excess. That is seriously bullish. In a money pit, no less.

Screen shot (top): Balenciaga/YouTube and photos: Balenciaga

Balenciaga’s Optics Of War

Models are still fashionably togged, but can they escape artillery shelling in spiked heels?

As the Balenciaga show goes on in Paris, news reports comes forth that Russian artillery attacks continue to rain on Ukraine’s residential areas throughout the country. Agreements with Russia earlier on a humanitarian corridor have largely fallen through, and residents are evacuating in droves. Reflecting this grim reality is the Balenciaga presentation, staged in Halle d’Expositions in Le Bourget, the northeastern suburb of Paris. Models brave machine-created snowstorm and gust, trudging, even in heels and above-knee boots (who has time to put them on under the threat of approaching attack?), through a scene originally created to be a warning about climate change. But with the war, the set becomes a timely discourse and, to a considerable extent, memoir of treacherous escape from military conflict. As Demna Gvasalia (now preferred to be known mononymously by his first name), told the press, “But it turned into something else, which often happens with my shows, somehow.”

The audience sees the presentation behind a see-through panel/shield. Looking on, what stands before could be a massive snow globe, but there is no fairy-tale or festive cuteness within. Instead, a diorama of people in peril, with a soundtrack of Slavonic piano to augment its bleakness. It is tempting to say that fashion is inclined to make light the gravity of things, but we do not sense that here. Demna himself said, “To me, fashion somehow doesn’t matter right now.” But fashion, like any show, must go on. The designer was a victim of war—at ten years of age, a refugee fleeing Abkhazia, Georgia in 1993, and was sheltered in Ukraine, where he went to school and learned to speak the language. At the beginning of the show, in total darkness, he reads a poem in Ukrainian. It roughly translates as “your sons will save you”. Although the words are intended for those who understands the language, Demna does intone, “the message is love, always. And fashion has to assume that, at least in terms of taking a position on it.”

But the allusion to war is not an equivocal one. It it can be seen and felt. And many do see and are touched, such as Bryan Boy, who quickly Twittered, “I don’t think I’ve ever bawled in a fashion show until now”. The show may be about evacuation, but it was about defiance too. Demna wrote in the show notes that cancelling the show to say no to the war would have been “surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years”. The authenticity—a less-hackneyed word may be preferred aside—of putting together a show by someone who had been through what is happening concurrently perhaps adds to the poignancy of the production, and to the clothes that are not entirely visible in the precipitative blurriness. Still, there is a tad of incongruity, when freshly-single, always-visible Kim Kardashian, “friend” of the house, sat in the front row, all bound up—in caution tape, labelled Balenciaga no less!

It is not a show that’s easy to watch, not only because of what it evokes, but also because what is seen are mostly the teetering, and the mere silhouettes. These are identifiably Balenciaga silhouettes: beautiful but, at times, ghostly. In the fog of war and inclement weather, bagged-up shapes and floating trains could be either the bourgeoisie in escape or the peasantry in flight, or both. The models, with wet hair, appear to have just taken their last shower. There are the half-naked, covered by a blanket (or is that a towel?), plodding through the snow. Some of the outerwear look like there are taken off a neighbour’s clothesline. But others—the dresses—could be a refugee’s finest because even in fleeing, you’d want to look your best. Many of them carry bags that look like black versions of those used by hotels for laundry. Perhaps better to contain everything you wish to bring along at the last minute. As Demna told the press, he “made everything less madame, less bourgeois, less upper-class”. It is not hard to second that.

💙💛💙💛💙💛

Screen grab (top) and photos: Balenciaga

It’s Yeezy: Look Like Kanye

If you can’t afford the threads Kanye West wears to look ominously wrapped up, Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga has similar sinister options for you

Gap will, for the first time in their 53-year existence embrace the look of a dark lord—whether of the Sith or Mordor, or Hidden Hills, you choose. Their offshoot brand Yeezy Gap headed by the all-dominant Kanye West is now in a collaborative arrangement with Balenciaga, specifically the equally powerful Demna Gvasalia. The sub-brand of that sub-brand, Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga (another long name to add to the club of long names or text in a logo), has released images of the so-far 8-piece capsule that comprises way more that what Mr West has produced since his appointment in 2020, when he signed an unimaginable 10-year deal with The Gap Inc, reported to be “worth as much as $970 million”, according to estimates later provided by UBS.

This collection, compared to Yeezy (the fashion label), is another planet. We have to go back to the past since Mr West has only created two items—a puffer and a hoodie—for Yeezy Gap. While Yeezy (fate not yet known) was mostly sensuous and body-loving, the Yeezy Gap tie-up is moody, oversized stuff that members of the Abnegation (or, perhaps, off-duty folks of Dauntless) of Divergent Chicago would wear. But the pieces click with Mr West’s preference for basics that are sufficiently tweaked for the pieces to look outré, but not so much that the kids of Calabasas or the fans in not-yet-dystopian Chicago would find them hard to accept. This time, the merchandise—apparently ready to retail three months earlier than planned—is a grand selection of one hoodie, four tees (one long-sleeved, three with a blurred dove image on the back), a pair of track pants, one torn denim trucker and jeans to match.

While the clothes may not arouse zeal, the pricing would spark shock. The cheapest item, one of the four T-shirts, is S$180 a pop (S$210 if the logo on the chest is larger)! For Gap? Yeezy? That makes Comme des Garçons’s madly popular made-in-Japan Play tees, at S$100 a piece (or S$110 for the men’s sizes), alluringly cheap. Is Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga expensive because, other than the luxury-brand association, they are MAGA-proudly “made in the USA”? Or is this a Gap-backed Balenciaga diffusion line to infuse the fashion and pop world with baggy bombast? A venture to better propagate the increasingly bleak, individual-erasing aesthetic of the Ye-Demna pairing, already seen in so much visually associated with Mr West’s Donda album release, activities, and publicity?

Mr Gvasalia told Vogue, “This is a very different challenge. I’ve always appreciated the utilitarianism and the accessibility of Gap. This project allowed me to join forces (with Ye) to create utilitarian fashion for all.” Reaching out to this many is ambitious. The thought is pretty scary too, when you consider seeing before you, the hordes dressed as if to attend Kanye West’s Sunday Service, to worship at the alter presided by a polymath-proteus-egoist. Even if you stop outside the moving doors of this church/cult (which one it is, it’s hard to say), it does not mean you would not witness the many adopters for whom the two one-names behind Yeezy Gap’s latest offerings could do no wrong. Are there really that many wishing for this creepy uniformity?

Oh, do also note: on the Yeezy Gap website, there’s no button that says ‘add to cart’, but a brief line that urges you to ‘JOIN WAITLIST’. Yes, in all caps, just like Kanye West’s rant-Tweets.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga is available online at Yeezy Gap and Farfetch. Photos: Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga

Kim Kardashian Looks Upholstered

So that you’ll know she’s pretty wrapped up in herself?

By Mao Shan Wang

Kim Kardashian has so many firsts that I stopped counting. Her debut as host of Saturday Night Life this past weekend is certainly one. But watch I did, not count. As her performance went rather smoothly and on-script, it didn’t have the same impact as the sex tapes (2007) or the Vogue cover (2014), or the time she broke the Internet (also 2014, a vintage year). I think it has to do with the jelak factor. Even when she is totally shrouded in black for an event that one attends to be seen: the Met Gala. Can Ms Kardashian, 41, surprise anymore? Sure, she is a savvy businesswoman and, to her fans, a style icon, but can there be more to her that would cause our jaw to drop? In that confidently handled SNL monologue, she already ruled out the possibility of being an American president. However hard I tried, I could not think of anything else I want to see her do except not to see her. Or, to see less of her.

When she walked down the stairs of the set of SNL, I thought it was a stagehand gone rogue, beating her to it by appearing as Miffy with a remade body in the shape of Kanye West’s still-legal-wife. But it was not so. As she moved towards the camera, one question immediately hit me. Why would anyone who would not hesitate to share naked selfies of herself on social media now want to look like a upholstered love seat, removed from a love hotel? And in lurid pink! I am serious. Or, after the Met Gala, should I say re-upholstered? Ms K loves nudity, but now she preferred covering every part of her body—more completely than a sofa. Yes, even her fingers and her toes. Why the strange modesty? Is this a divorce-in-the-process look? The fIngers covered so that no one can see that she is no longer trapped by a wedding ring?

The pink velvet(?) catsuit is designed by Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga. We sort of had a preview of Ms K’s total-onesie in the Paris Fashion Week animated short of the Simpsons walking a Balenciaga show. She was seated in the front row, looking vacuum-sealed. Her face for SNL, however, was not covered. But as with the black outfit—also by Balenciaga—that she wore for the Met Gala, there was no mistaking who the silhouette belonged to. A body with such a defined and smooth shape had to be enhanced by some shape wear. It is, of course, expected that she’d wear one to promote her own Skims line (initially called Kimono!), however successful it already is. The Balenciaga second skin needed the Skims for sure. So why let Balenciaga have all the publicity? Now, that to me is a symbiotic relationship. And what better place to show it than on YouTube-bound television, on Saturday night?

Photo: NBC/YouTube

Crazy Celeb Crush

Balenciaga’s IRL show is a red carpet event, complete with shouting paparazzi. Be ready to dress like stars next season. Or, one cartoon family

It’s the red carpet of the Met Gala, the Oscars, the Bafta, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Razzies, the Grammys, the BMAs, the VMAs, the BET, all rolled into one. Outside Le Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Balenciaga staged a fake red carpet arrival, strictly in Balenciaga, of course, and complete with hordes of gawkers and a throng of photographers, shouting for the attention of arriving ‘stars’. Is red carpet fashion a valid category? Apparently, at least to Balenciaga. Designer Demna Gvasalia was, in fact, recently at the Met Gala, making sure Kim Kardashian’s outfit looked right and was ready for the camera. Could the Met Gala experience have been the inspiration behind the presentation for spring/summer 2022? Fashion and celebrity as one, conclusively? This could, of course, be social commentary, but also a reflection of the state of fashion consumption? The red carpet is still the runway (and it is often set up as one) to look to. What goes on on a red carpet does not stay there. Eventually, it will be picked up for the streets and will boost the participating brands’ red carpet and—and not far off—street cred.

Models and celebrities (they’re models too!) arrive as if E! Entertainment is covering this live (which makes the vibe more Hollywood than Paris). A motley group that includes gender non-conformers, hip-hop moguls, screen and music stars, one rapper-couple, one everywhere-he-is photographer, one powerful (still?) editrix, and even a pregnant redhead (or should that be carrot?). They are definitely dressed to the nines, even in street style. They cover the gamut, from couture-worthy gowns to shopping/dating/loafing-ready jeans. What could be different from the average red carpet could be that the guests are carrying handbags. There are even shoulder bags. Who’d think any of them would need one at a gala? Meanwhile, inside the theatre, invited guests were watching the outside proceedings on the big screen, reportedly appreciating what is looking like a “joke”. When the red carpet walkers finally take their seats inside, the audience is treated to a show: The Simpsons! A special screening, as it appears, with Homer and company invited to Paris to walk the Balenciaga runway. Marge Simpson, high on Balenciaga, has never looked so good (not even in that pink Chanel suit), in a gold gown from the spring/summer 2020 collection, with a bow in the rear, the size of a giant Sagami kite!

Marge Simpson trying her first Balenciaga dress

Mrs Simpson on the runway

Demna Gvasalia tells the media that the whole exercise is about having “fun”, something so missing and missed in our COVID-stricken lives that fashion is now placing the seeking of entertainment and mirth as prime. And in Paris, the Simpsons certainly are enjoying themselves. And the whole of Springfield, even if they are fish out of water. Homer, the last fashionista, wears his red Balenciaga jacket like a postman his uniform. Thankfully, outside toon town, the style is more sleek, ever kooky, Balenciaga standard. The charm (and now star quality?) of the brand is its ability—irony still dripping?—to compact both red-carpet elegance and off-kilter street style into a single look with rigour and discipline. Sure, these aren’t dresses a Bond girl would wear on a date with Double-O-Seven (nor are they the stuff of his wardrobe for jet setting and licence to kill), but for those who need to be validated as perversely cool, and directly connected to Mr Gvasalia, such as he who conceives Donda. In Balenciaga, one is not under-dressed or over-dressed, just dressed, statement unequivocally made. How convenient for most fashion-craving rappers and their inner circles.

Now that the Balenciaga couture is shown, and the house’s know-how, although never in doubt, is updated and proven, there seems to be a general sense of heightened raffinement. The dresses are less thrift-store, more cocktails-after-a-fashion-show. The hoodies less sportif, but still hoodies. The suit jackets still hunched, and still too big for most body types. The denim jeans still overwashed, but more up-cycled. And, the Crocs less unusual (now), but much harder… clompers! They are all still composed to better position Balenciaga as the unwavering height of subversive-simultaneously-worn-out cool. The look, by now, is no longer outré, but still unconventional enough for covetous eyes. Just one thing: enough of Naomi Campbell. In whatever.

Screen grabs and photos: Balenciaga

Balenciaga Couture For The Young

…and hip-hop stars. Is this the collection to change haute couture’s trajectory?

It’s at least two years in the making. This is Demna Gvasalia’s first couture collection ever and Balenciaga’s first after 53 years. And the first featuring menswear. The house closed its doors in 1968, and slammed the door shut on its haute couture division for more than half a decade. Now it’s back with a bang, but hushed by the cream carpeted floors and matching drapery of its restored salon in their haute couture quarters on 10 Avenue Georges V, Paris. Half way across the globe, we were paying close attention to our PC monitor screen for the presentation to start (it was late, and kicked off after the arrival of Bella Hadid!). The opening screen at first showed what appeared to be a label, set (not stitched) against a beige background. Below, it said, “Welcome to the Salon”, not show. When the livestream began, we saw a room (and later a corridor) and people were mingling, waiting for the show to start. For most of the day earlier, social media was heavy with expectation. Balenciaga’s ready to wear is enough to get people talking. This was predicted to break the Internet.

But it didn’t. Balenciaga’s social media pages were restored around the time of the live-streaming of the couture show, or at least Instagram and Twitter were. But was it all the rave it was expected to be? Sure, there would be those for whom Balenciaga couture can do no wrong. But, unlike in the past, there would not be the likes of Mona von Bismarck—who, according to Diana Vreeland, did not leave her room in her villa in Carpri for three days when Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968—to buy and wear his clothes and visually rave about them. How many influencers can afford couture? Now, it is quite a different clientele, or audience. Men were many—James Harden, Lil Baby, Kanye West (face mysteriously concealed, but everyone knew it was him!), and others. The presence of these men, predominantly hip-hop stars, strengthen the believe that streetwear has arrived at couture houses. Once it was the aesthetics of the couture that trickled down to the pret-a-porter. Now the reverse is true. Haute couture can’t be that high up anymore.

It isn’t quite clear yet if streetwear needs further elevating or if couture needs to be less rarified. Or if streetwear, like Black designers, still needs validation. Should we call it streetwear now that even the T-shirt has a place in Balenciaga couture, although not the least a simple one? But Demna Gvasalia has not entirely distance himself from the DNA of the house known for not creating clothes that follow the lines and shapes of women’s bodies. Mr Gvasalia, adept at using negative spaces in clothes to striking effect, continues Balenciaga’s manipulation and exaggeration of shape. Continuing is key here. He called the show the “50th”. He is reopening the doors that stayed shut, and within the hallowed and hush grounds (the show was sans soundtrack, like in the old days—you could hear the rustling/swishing of the clothes. Silk taffeta!), continued showing where the last great collection was presented. And Mr’s referential and confident nod to the man whose name he now leads is exciting the wealthy young who are unable to yoke themselves to the stubbornly old-school houses such as Chanel.

But is it the great collection we have been waiting for? Or, a refresher course? We have mixed feelings. This does not have the WTF-are-those punch in the gut of Mr Gvasalia’s first outing with the house after Alexander Wang’s totally unsurprising departure in 2015. It certainly has the spirit; it has the shapes, it has the proportions; it has the textures, but does it sing—or rap? We thought we heard a hum, but only what Mr Gvasalia could intone. Is the anorak, with a back of Watteau pleats, the new opera coat? Is the cable sweater, woven with chaîne gourmette by the textile design atelier of Jean Pierre Ollier, the new hoodie? Is the bathrobe, in super-fine micro-knifed leather (actually, ciseaux-ed. Is it heavy?), the new trench? Is the floor-length padded coat, oversized and tented, the new Andre Leon Talley’s beloved “sleeping bag coat”? Is the pieced-together-by-hand leather, made into a flounced skirt, the new embossed leather? Is Demna Gvasalia, hidden away in the atelier while the guests applauded, the new “master” of them all?

Screen grab (top) and photos: Balenciaga