Get comfy, slip on your Sock Trainers and £100,000 robot leggings, as we find out what it is that makes the genius behind Balenciaga tick. Let’s start at the beginning: 1917 should not only be remembered as the year the US entered WW1, but also as the year that Cristobal Balenciaga opened his Haute Couture house in San Sebastian, Spain. Aged only 22, this apprentice tailor altered the course of fashion history forever. Christian Dior would come to refer to Balenciaga as “the master of us all”, with Coco Chanel describing him as “a couturier in the truest sense of the word”. Let’s take a deep dive into how at times of turmoil and unrest, it took Balenciaga’s brilliance to reimagine beauty.
First opening boutiques in Madrid and Barcelona, by the early 1950s Balenciaga was in Paris sending shockwaves through the industry’s conventional approach to the female silhouette with its unique take on couture. Championing the hourglass silhouette, this stylistic uprising continued into the late 50s and early 60s, as Balenciaga’s simplified lines unendingly disrupted the wardrobes of so many.
The next decade was set to see Balenciaga stretch the term ‘designer’ to encompass far more than just the curation of couture. As Balenciaga’s influence penetrated nearly every aspect of 60’s fashion, the brand was soon to become infamous in the political world, as Jackie Kennedy famously battled with her husband, President JFK, over her Balenciaga bill. Jackie won and her sartorial choices still sets the standard for First Ladies today.
Following Cristobal’s final collection and retirement in 1968, Nicolas Ghesquiere would be the next name to revolutionise fashion under the Balenciaga name. He was appointed as the fashion house’s creative director in 1997. Three years after his arrival, Ghesquiere designed the now notoriously known ‘Motorcycle Lariat’. By 2015, Demna had taken the reins of the brand, pushing a “destruct to create” process – a process that he’s continued to champion and use to inform his collections for the house. Just don’t put him in a box.
“I hate boxes and I hate labels and I hate being labelled and placed in a box” Demna wrote in the notes for yesterday’s Balenciaga show. An analogy for the struggle to fight fashion’s prescribed boxes. All eyes were on the brand this season as they showcased in another constructed showspace, this time a mud-filled battlefield made in the shape of a runway. Demna’s wish for this collection and fashion as a whole was to “express a state of mind”, and that he has done, illustrating everything he needs to say with the visuals of this collection rather than with verbal explanations.
This show welcomed its guests by sending their invitations in the form of a lost wallet, complementing the general atmosphere of this season’s set. Mimicking what seemed to be a rocky terrain, or perhaps the puddle filled craters of the moon, the opening ensemble featured an oversized, black utility security jacket with large, black, leather trousers worn by Kanye West. The models continued to file out, most now stalking the sodden stage in shorts and zip-up co-ord in an array of colours, clutching a multicoloured teddy bear handbag.
These sets prove to be some of the only moments of colour throughout the showing. Next came a series of body length spring scarves, bouncing smoothly with each of the model’s steps, as they are tainted and splashed by the muddy water below. Balenciaga reworked the traditional meaning of a handbag, transforming it into what seemed to be an Armbag, covering its wearers shoulders and allowing them to slip their arm through a glove-like handle. Elsewhere in the accessories department, we saw the Lays bag make a return, which is actually made of leather.
The post-apocalyptic-esque show closed with a dramatic maxi black leather pinafore dress. The ensemble was covered in zips, with black leather straps holding up zip-up pouches. If this is what the end of the world looks like, sign me up. This season has once again proved that the words ‘small’ and ‘understated’ are not in the Balenciaga dictionary – from Cristobal’s original disruptive nature, revolutionising silhouettes and the very notion of couture, to Demna’s continued vision of destructive, organised chaos, Denma has paid great care to design with Balenciaga’s house archives in mind, with preserving and upholding Cristobal’s artistic integrity in terms of a garment’s material, shape and cut.
More on CULTED
See also: “IN FASHION I FIND EVERYTHING I NEED”: KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM ANDREAS KRONTHALER FOR VIVIENNE WESTWOOD SS23