Forget quiet quitting, or even quiet luxury: Balenciaga’s 52nd couture show was a demonstration of a quiet (ish) comeback. After a year which saw the brand retreat after a certain, cough, scandal, this morning’s show followed in AW23’s footsteps – stripping back the ‘spectacle’ that had previously come to define Balenciaga under Demna.
If the purpose of couture is to take the brand’s key design motifs and elevate them using elusive (and expensive) fabrications, methods and techniques, then Balenciaga understood the assignment. The show opened with a lesson in strong lines: suiting with bold shoulders and exaggerated, round necklines brought Balenciaga’s ball gowns into the realm of high lux. Heels and shoes were extended into sharp points, marking the onward trajectory for both models in Cristobal’s original salon and the brand as a whole.
The more subdued opening looks soon gave way to weirder, yet exciting ones which showcased the house’s undeniable technical ability. Coats and scarves were warped into a state of being permanently blustered – maybe frozen in the storm that we’re sure Balenciaga is trying to forget. Then came shredded dresses – gowns cut up in slits – as well as crystal and chainmail dresses that saw the brand exercise its couture-ified budget.
In the post Bottega SS23 fashionscape (see: Kate in those iconic leather ‘jeans’), it was no surprise that trompe l’oeil also featured heavily in this collection. What appeared to be denim was actually oil painted canvas, subverting the more casual inferences of a canadian tuxedo or stonewash jeans into a rich display of couture fabrication and design. Interspersed within the usual swathes of black were distinct pops of colour: vivid reds and blush pinks reminded the audience of the pure glamour once associated with the iconic fashion house.
It was this sense of nostalgia and legacy which was the main takeaway from the show: opening with Cristobal Balenciaga’s original muse, Danielle Slavik, who modeled for the house from 1964-68, in an archive-inspired black dress and contrasting white pearls. Instead of the blockbuster lineup of highly-visible A-Listers who walked in the brand’s show last year (who included Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid and Nicole Kidman), Demna’s models this year included artist Eliza Douglas and French actor Isabelle Huppert, walking with the same slow urgency as last year but this time to operatic wails.
Without the safety net of the wild set designs and spectacle that we’ve become accustomed to when talking about Balenciaga shows, this quiet comeback placed all the emphasis on the clothes. Here, Demna presented a new kind of armour: one which symbolised the public battle that the brand has been partaking in, and which asked the age old question – ‘what if Joan of Arc slayed’?
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