How would Demna Gvsalia, the current darling of avant-garde fashion, handle his debut collection as Creative Director of Balenciaga? In the days leading up to what was arguably the week’s most anticipated show, many of us wondered if he would acknowledge the house codes (as Raf Simons did so brilliantly at Dior) or completely break them down and create a new look (as Hedi Slimane did so cleverly at Saint Laurent). What he did fell somewhere in the middle: taking the DNA of Balenciaga and seamlessly marrying it with his vision for Vetements.
This was Vetements for grown-ups, with the bold, curvy shapes Cristóbal was known for.
All of the hallmarks he’s developed at his own label were there: strong tailoring (angular, broad-shouldered suiting with an exaggerated nipped and flared waist), a sporty aesthetic (oversized hooded quilted jackets with the Balenciaga logo branded on the collar and the reimagined ski trouser), and off-key florals (this time patched together in Demna’s now trademark asymmetrical shape) and matching sweater/skirt combos in luxed-up lurex. But he refined and polished the ideas for the Balenciaga woman, adding in directional new shapes and reinventions of classic wardrobe pieces including a trench and shearling coat, both cut to fall off the shoulders. Even the humble jean jacket (when was the last time we saw one of those at Balenciaga?) got a Demna makeover. This was ‘wardrobe-ing’ elevated to exacting standards, packed with bold new ideas.
Yes, the pieces were sometimes challenging and those in-your-face towering platforms are not for everyday wear. But as a whole, the collection presented a new way of looking at fashion. Most importantly, the majority of the clothes whispered, ‘Buy me.’
It appears Balenciaga has finally managed to recapture the excitement that surrounded it during the golden Nicolas Ghesquière years — especially impressive in a season plagued with a certain amount of collective despair over the state of things in the industry. In a way, Demna Gvsalia is the face of the broken fashion system. This is a rising star who has been able to emerge out of the chaos to create something energising and new. The future doesn’t look so bleak after all.