I expected to see something truly uncomfortably intriguing from Demna Gvasalia, but his latest, spring Balenciaga collection is radical in a different way. First thing you notice: it’s all about Gvasalia’s Balenciaga classics, stripped-back and simplified. And then you get it: it’s a line-up that to the bone reflects what most of us (if not all) really feel now. We need comfort. We feel secure when invisible. We don’t want to be bothered by others. And it’s great if our turtleneck can act as a mask. You can love a gorgeous, fairy-tale dress, but deep inside, under the pressure of the cracking world, a good hoodie, a big coat, and a pair of undemanding pants make us feel safe and relaxed. So, as a sort of middle finger to the industry where some still do business as usual, trying to sell a dream, Gvasalia lets us stay in the comfort zone. But then, the collection isn’t as grey and dull as it might sound. “Hope is the last thing to die. That’s the Russian saying. You know, I couldn’t wait not to do a show. It didn’t feel right with the way things are. So we’ve made a music video,” he told Vogue in a phone call from Switzerland, where he lives. “My husband recorded that ’80s track by Corey Hart, ‘I wear my sunglasses at night’—because you know, is there anything more absurdly fashion than that? It’s also allegorical. You know, where is fashion going? It’s out there, searching in the dark at the moment, not seeing…” But wait – there is nothing dystopian about this video. Gvasalia’s tribe of Balenciaga nighttime people are each captured as if heading somewhere with a purposeful step. We see them as they walk along the Rue de Rivoli, past the Tuileries gardens, embodying exactly the inimitable cool of the type of people who turn heads after dark on the streets of Paris. We clock them, we check out their clothes, how they’ve put them together, each to their own. They feel real. They are real. Demna confesses that something has change inside of him, in midst of the lockdown. The very man who plunged his fashion show audience into a terrifyingly apocalyptic show experience last season has come back with his head in a far more optimistic place. “Because some day we will be out of this.” He imagined a man who leaves the house near the site of Cristóbal’s maison – a guy, setting out in an oversized navy suit, wraparound shades, and what looks to be a sweater draped over his head (but is a ready-made Balenciaga accessory). “So,” Gvasalia related, “he walks through the night, going through lots of changes, morphing into her, him, them. And they end up meeting as friends, going to a party or a club maybe—and everyone is without masks. That’s the hope!” Pandemic-end pending, however, the film credits meticulously set out every detail of the COVID-secure measures taken to safeguard models and crew. Moreover, the impetus of the collection was “imagining how fashion will be in 2030. When thinking of the future, it’s not a Stanley Kubrick space-age vision for me. Mine is very much down to earth. Ten years from now, everything in fashion will be sustainable. No discussion, right? I think we will be reusing the clothes we have. Time makes things beautiful. I heard a quote from Martin Margiela when I was working there, about the value of ‘the trace of time’ in clothes. That touched me deeply. We keep clothes like that to death. I mean, I have a hoodie that’s 15 years old. It’s bleached out and has holes in it. But I cannot throw that away. So, I thought: In the year 2030, how will your favorite things look, aged and destroyed?” A press release specified: “93.5% of the plain materials in this collection are either certified sustainable or upcycled. 100% of the print bases have sustainable certifications.” This speaks for itself. With the resources of the Kering Group at hand, Gvasalia said, “we discovered we could do it quite easily, with the exception of the fibers that are in some of the existing fabrics. There are solutions if you look for them. There’s a need to revise things. To start a new chapter.” So, in the end, it’s not that depressing. A reset-slash-detox brings space and lets fresh air in. Gvasalia keeps on provoking the mind, even with the simplest gestures.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.