Balenciaga stages a chic apocalypse
Balenciaga hosted a high-impact show at Paris Fashion Week on Sunday, a kind of dramatic contemporary opera. It was beneath a changing sky, reflected by a water-covered stage, that Demna Gvasalia, creative director of the Kering-owned luxury house, decided to reveal his collection for Fall/Winter 2020-21, mixing influences and energies from the past with his unique vision of the future. The runway was intense, opening with an apocalyptic atmosphere before gradually returning to a lighter, more frivolous version of fashion.
An immense expanse of black water stretching as far as the first rows of audience seating served as the runway, reflecting a giant screen suspended from the roof. The scene was set. It was hard not to be reminded of the recent flooding in Venice as the first models made their way down the catwalk under a threatening sky, splashing everything in their path as they walked, especially as some of them sported never-ending thigh-length fishing boots, much like those seen on the laguna at the end of last year.
The climate emergency was a palpable presence, particularly in the images that flashed across the ceiling and were reflected and expanded throughout the show space – gales, lightning, foaming waves, concrete jungle urban landscapes and even a burning sky, which bathed the space in a red glow and seemed to tinge the water with blood.
The first part of the extensive collection offered up a series of austere all-black looks in materials such as leather, wool, silk and nylon. They completely covered the models' bodies, featuring high collars or hoods and channelling an aesthetic inspired both by the clergy and the distant past. The overall feel of the wardrobe also seemed to echo the old religious iconography of Spain, homeland of the house's founder, Cristobal Balenciaga.
Heavy coats, slender tunics, velvet cassocks, magistrate's robes with flaring sleeves, skirts, suits, windbreakers and even a double-breasted jacket extended down to the water the models sloshed through, and were worn by both men and women of all ages, some of whom had been made up with worryingly red eyes. This dramatic spirit was further emphasised in a series of dresses, jumpers, jackets and suits featuring exaggerated, squared proportions and topped off with pagoda-style shoulders that turned up towards the sky.
New construction techniques were used in the collars of certain wool coats, which were extended and transformed into capes on one side. Another coat was worn inside out, while a jumper was folded over and pulled up the back as far as the model's head to serve as a hood. A prickly jacket with rubber spikes was a particular highlight, as was a hooded peasant dress in latex.
Flashes of red were slipped in among the predominantly black looks, in the form of a long, fine coat, for example, a latex cape-dress or a pouch. Other colourful elements included a mimosa-yellow print inserted into the front of a black dress, while the letters "blncg," a contraction of "Balenciaga," were printed diagonally across certain jackets in white.
In the second part of the show, the wardrobe took a sharp turn, veering into an aesthetic marked more noticeably by streetwear and channelling a sportier register. This style seemed to be more specifically conceived for men, combining baseball caps and chic tracksuits, with leather motocross gear composed of pants and jackets featuring knee, elbow and shoulder pads.
Soccer also put in an appearance, with models wearing handsome jerseys in the colours of team Balenciaga. With the brand name printed above the player number on the back, these shirts will no doubt sell like hotcakes. This collection's range of accessories also looks sure to have a bright future, especially one lunchbox-shaped bag.
For evening, Gvasalia had fun making gala looks that were simultaneously tight and draped, using a single piece of brightly coloured stretch fabric to make a dress, pantashoes and gloves.
The designer also experimented with stretch fabrics in a series of original figure-hugging suits this season. And, in a similar vein, he even came up with some ultra-skintight bodysuits for the boys, which simultaneously covered everything and left very little to the imagination.
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