#SuzyPFW: Balenciaga in a World of Menace
“It represents the time we live in. For me, it’s dark; it’s very mystical; it’s dangerous. I wanted the music to be dangerous, to evoke the feeling of something about to happen. Because fashion is the reflection of the time we live in.”
Those words from designer Demna Gvasalia, after a Balenciaga show held in muffled, cloudy darkness, summed up the feeling of menace that started at the shoulders – with their weirdly interlocking doubling of garments – down to the bags made from what resembled car-wash curtains to spike-heeled boots patterned with what the designer described as “screen savers”.
Compared to the noble, sculpted, timeless image of a Balenciaga shoulder I saw later in the “Irving Penn: Centennial” exhibition at the Grand Palais, Demna’s work seemed fragmented, disproportioned, and uncomfortable.
“It was the first season where I wanted to put more Demna in it somehow,” the designer admitted. “I went back to the archives and I wanted to pay tribute to the DNA and methodology of Cristóbal. I wanted it to be about things that I like and things that I value, mixed. It is actually a juxtaposition, because we looked at a lot of images of how the bourgeoisie was dressing in different places.”
Given Demna’s personal background of a shifting childhood under threat of war in Eastern Europe, a sense of impermanence was rife: shirts made from cloth printed with old newspapers, and partial clothing. That meant a parka hanging down the front of a shirt like a perambulating wardrobe, and a stylish, haute couture-style tailored coat worn like an apron over a check shirt and cotton vest. The vastly exaggerated shoulders, seeded at Balenciaga in the 1950s and grown monstrous at Vetements, played an important role.
I do not deny Demna’s commitment to a disturbingly nomad style of slapping together clothes as if fleeing terror, his designer background encompasses the now historic make-do-and-mend of Martin Margiela and its follow-through by John Galliano. Although nobody owns a design style once it has been thrown out to a hungry fashion world, a shirt printed like a newspaper and even Demna’s central idea of two garments in one are rooted in the work of the previous designers, including Comme des Garçons.
Does it matter? Nobody “owns” something in current fashion when ideas ricochet across the screen within 15 minutes of a show ending. Perhaps it is better to view the spike-heeled boots patterned with flowers or the variations on humble sandals as elements of a general idea of appropriation that appears in fine art as much as fashion.
Demna’s Balenciaga mixes included a plaid coat as timeless and elegant as chain belts with dangling Eiffel Tower motifs were not. It is all in the mix of punk plaids and spikes, already filtered in fashion by Comme des Garçons, Vivienne Westwood and others. Then throw in the shoes inspired by Crocs (as seen at Christopher Kane for the last two seasons).
Nothing is really “new” in fashion, except perhaps fabrics, which may have played an important role in the Balenciaga show. But with Demna’s admission that he wanted the show to reflect more of himself, Cristóbal seemed to be fading into the fog.