Paris is burning – or it seems to be, from the Balenciaga couture livestream, at least. With Balenciaga-clad guests fanning themselves from the heat pre-show, the stage was set for the brand to show their second couture collection under Demna, having re-entered the couture space after a long hiatus just last year. The FROW was full of icons old and new – Anna Wintour, couture week institution, sat opposite North West and Kris Jenner, who in turn, sat next to Alexa Demie.
Elsewhere, Offset, Law Roach and Tracee Ellis Ross flagged the corners of the front row, with the rest of the attendees not far away. Kicking off with a ceremonious opening of mirrored doors, the collection began with a series of thick matte latex looks, and robot mask-clad models traversing through the rooms. Here, we saw classic Balenciaga silhouettes such as the catsuit, but also long trench silhouettes and traditional gowns which sat heavy in the thick material. Immediate references may have recalled imagery akin to Daft Punk in wetsuits, but as the looks progressed, Balenciaga’s couture made textures and materials elegant.
Classic house codes cultivated under Demna such as the oversized silhouettes with drop shoulders were elevated and refined into a rounded, exaggerated shoulder, providing a sense of welcome curvature to offset form-fitting, A-line longer dresses. The next section saw the brand delve deeper into the luxury, haute couture spheres with crystal net dress overlays and a bright blue feather dress. If Balenciaga’s usual output speaks to the irony of our current consumerist age, this collection harked back to the house’s origins: high glamour, high craftsmanship, and more than a hint of Cristobal’s iconic heritage.
However, the house’s streetwear influences were not entirely forgotten. Forming the middle section was an updated take on a tried and true classic – a T-shirt and jeans. However, these tees were suspended in permanent motion – dry-formed into 3D structures that made the garments seem frozen in a perpetual state of dressing or undressing, within and without. The same technique was applied to short sleeve shirts, as well as pullover anoraks, before this segment came to a close with a Helly Hansen collab coat.
As ever, Demna’s commentary on the concept of celebrity was evident here. From playing with visuals, making Kim Kardashian into an instantly recognisable silhouette without showing her face, to Balenciaga’s red carpet inadvertent show, the brand’s musings on what it means to be hidden but visible, faceless but ‘the face of’ has helped to carve its unique identity in today’s saturated fashion world. For this show though, this played out as the second ‘act’ hit the runway – gone were the tech masks, which obscured all identity, and here were the A (list) team.
Enlisting brand friends and collaborators Christine Quinn, Naomi, Bella Hadid, Kim Kardashian and Nicole Kidman to name just a few, Kim’s absence on the FROW suddenly made sense. Transgressing the boundaries between fan, collaborator, muse and now model, it was as if the reality star and business mogul’s interweaving with Demna and Balenciaga had reached a peak: Kim Kardashian (and brand) is synonymous with Balenciaga, in indisputable measure.
Here, we saw Balenciaga couture at its finest: heavy ruching and knotting transformed materials and silhouettes into structural, wearable art pieces. The sheer volume of hours spent on both concept and actualisation were clear – from the way Naomi’s collar stood with rigidity but her skirt floated with a sense of buoyancy and weightlessness. Opera gloves were elongated up to the shoulders, providing stark lines of contrast and confinement within which the main look could perform to its highest capability.
Keeping thing hinging on the performance were a series of ballooned gowns which struggled to make it through the confines of the doorways – including the last look, which was a striking crystal and diamond-embellished bridal dress complete with all-encompassing tulle veil. But whilst many were quick to put it down to an unintentional mishap, Balenciaga’s knack for creating viral moments sprang to mind as the last model teetered painfully through the final runway progression: what’s a Balenciaga show without a hint of irony, and what’s a Balenciaga couture show without an element of unpredictability?
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