As the Lana Del Rey song goes, “Money is the reason we exist, Everybody knows it, it’s a fact (kiss, kiss)“. With a heavily ironic sense, that’s what Demna meant with his resort 2023 Balenciaga show, which was presented last week in New York. Not just anywhere – the show began with the ringing of the opening bell at the kingdom of capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange. The floor traders had been replaced by Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Chloe Sevigny (and her husband Siniša Mačković), Megan Thee Stallion, Frank Ocean, and the city’s Mayor Eric Adams. The loaction couldn’t be more unsettling: Wall Street has taken quite a hit these past few weeks; headlines about a looming recession abound. But that suits the Balenciaga creative director just fine. Demna has never shied away from darkness or menace, and this show was no exception. Latex bodysuits fully obscured his models’ faces; they were corporate raiders of a different kind. “We have to trigger emotion,” he said backstage, wearing a face-obscuring mask of his own. “We live in a terrifying world, and I think fashion is a reflection of that… I think it was quite urgent, a quite urgent show.” The invitation was a fat stack of fake 100s. It’s a mistake, though, to consider the collection or its presentation as a critique of capitalism. “The most important kind of challenge for any kind of creative is to make a product that is desirable, to create desire. That’s what fashion should do,” Demna said.
To keep desire thrumming for its diverse audience, which is the point of these mid-season collections, the show was divided into three parts. It started with the introduction of a new “Garde-Robe,” or wardrobe, of what Demna described as “upscale classic garments.” The offering, he said, was inspired by the relaunch of the house’s couture collection last year, which was built on a foundation of tailoring. “I realized we were missing this segment of the classic wardrobe,” he explained. Classic here meant suits and overcoats, cut in the oversized, drop-shoulder shape Demna favors, and which have become hugely influential at all levels of fashion in the wake of that couture debut. Voluptuous silk jacquard pussybow blouses à la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl acted as accompaniments. The second element of the collection was eveningwear in the form of second-skin sequined gowns and silk trench dresses with trains whose supreme elegance wasn’t undercut by the pneumatic padded pumps they were worn with. In contrast, the super-sized lace-up boots that were paired with many of the show’s other looks and modeled by Ye in the front row were memeably outlandish in their proportions. Part three showcased Demna’s collaboration with Adidas. If he was trying to shake off the image of Balenciaga as a maker of high-class hoodies with Garde-Robe this section drove home the continued dominance of the sportswear category. There were tracksuits, scaled up t-shirts, boxer’s robes, and track dresses, all bearing adidas’s iconic stripes, a modified trefoil logo, or the Balenciaga name spelled in its partner’s lowercase typeface. Much of it was available to buy or pre-order on Balenciaga.com directly after the show. Set against the background of a glitchy stock market and an imminent system crash, this Balenciaga show was confident, versatile, and dangerous. But also how simple, yet so genius. That’s Demna all over.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.