Balenciaga have changed the game, once again. As you’ve probably seen all over your feeds, the brand won Paris Fashion Week with a ‘show’ that redefined what fashion presentations could, and should be.
There was a palpable air of mystery surrounding the show: models and celebrities were sent down a red carpet in front of the Theatre du Chatelet – one of Paris’ oldest and most distinguished theatrical venues. Balenciaga atelier staff made up the attendees, along with a slew of celebrities including Cardi B, Offset and Elliot Page. The U.K’s own Betsy Johnson, Lewis Hamilton and Naomi Campbell also walked the carpet, all dressed in full Balenciaga looks. As they were captured by a host of paparazzi, including none other than Juergen Teller they were unaware that this was all being live streamed inside the Theatre and online, leading to social media speculation as to whether the red carpet was the brand’s SS22 show: swapping runway for red carpet.
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However, Demna Gvasalia didn’t stop there – leading the celebrities and models into the theatre’s stalls for an undisclosed screening. As lights dimmed and the distinctive Simpson’s theme tune began, the second half of Balenciaga’s SS22 ‘show’ commenced: a custom Simpsons minisode which followed Homer sourcing the green Balenciaga gown of Marge’s dreams.
The short episode featured all of the popular Springfield characters rubbing shoulders with creative director Demna Gvasalia, there to avert Springfield’s ‘style crisis’ and all culminating in an animated Balenciaga fashion show, attended by a cartoon audience that even included Anna Wintour. Combined with the red-carpet livestream, the overall effect was a meta-commentary on the world of fashion and celebrity: what makes a fashion show? And what if you don’t know you’re walking in one?
Gvasalia himself played up to this notion of questioning the world of celebrity, by wearing the same anonymous all-black fit as he did to accompany Kim Kardashian to the Met Gala a few weeks prior. As there was then, there was instant speculation that the figure was in fact Kanye West, who has also been working closely with Gvasalia for the recent Donda album merchandise and listening parties. However – Balenciaga’s Instagram soon confirmed that it was in fact the designer, decidingly shutting down the rumours that they had willingly co-created.
The collection itself, seen in animation (Springfield) and real life (Paris), consisted of classic Balenciaga silhouettes and design tropes: think oversized puffer jackets, charged-up tailoring and larger-than-life shoulder pads. Other highlights included baggy 90s jeans, printed dresses with matching boots, and an updated gothic platform croc. These, the more casual of the set, succeeded a collection of couture. These pieces were perhaps more similar to what we are used to seeing on a red carpet: high fashion, high drama. They included a huge black ball gown in tiers of ruffled lace, a huge white feathered coat that could’ve come out of Cruella’s wardrobe, and a sequined black dress with wired hips. Here Gvasalia displayed his impressive command of structure and elegance – no doubt keen to deliver after being appointed the title of couturier in July.
As well as being a spectacle of comedy and couture, Gvasalia’s SS22 orchestration tackled the creeping frustrations that wider culture perhaps hold towards the establishments of fashion and celebrity culture. From his position at the top of the fashion industry, he is undoubtedly part of its self-perpetuating elitism, but with these questioning and boundary-breaking presentations he manages to consistently question its merits. Here, he interrogates the same structure that he fuels, subverting his privileged position within it to inform each new collection. Call it what you want- but we call it refreshing.