Alaïa and Balenciaga, the Sculptors of Shape (and more Alaïa!)

In 1968, as Cristóbal Balenciaga was preparing to close his eponymous fashion house, a young Azzedine Alaïa – already designing for private clients from his small apartment – received a phone call from Mademoiselle Renée, Balenciaga’s then-vice general director. She was concerned about the future of the Spanish couturier’s archive of gowns and unused fabrics and invited Alaïa to the maison to help himself to what was left, hoping he might re-cut and re-purpose the garments and cloth to give them new life. “That’s how his obsession for collecting fashion began,” says fashion curator and historian Olivier Saillard. “He was so moved seeing all those pieces that, instead of reworking them, he decided to keep them intact.” Saillard – who works closely with Carla Sozzani and Alaïa’s partner, the painter Christoph von Weyhe, to manage the late designer’s foundation, Association Azzedine Alaïa – has curated a new exhibition “Alaïa and Balenciaga, Sculptors of Shape” which runs until June 28 (temporarily closed now due to the coronavirus epidemy) at Galerie Azzedine Alaïa in Paris. Conceived as a sort of pristine white labyrinth, the exhibition sees pieces from both designers mirror one another without ever getting too physically close, reflecting the fact that the two couturiers never met in person. And, though Saillard might have been behind the exhibition’s content and design, he is quick to insist that the exhibition was not his own idea – rather that of another famed Parisian couturier, Hubert de Givenchy. “He came to see us in 2018, approximately six months after Azzedine’s death and, at 90 years old, completely blew us away with his old-school charm. He wanted to show the work of both designers at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in the Spanish city of Getaria,” Saillard informs in the press notes. “Unfortunately, he died two weeks after that first meeting.” The curator then became in charge of fostering Givenchy’s idea, and the exhibition will eventually make its way to Getaria this summer. Identifying all the Balenciaga pieces in Alaïa’s collection was no easy feat. “Nothing was really archived, but we ended up finding more than 500 items,” remembers Saillard. “Then we compared them to Azzedine’s own work. That’s when I realised the extent of the Spanish master’s influence on him. Most of all, I think Azzedine always strived to equal Cristóbal’s technical virtuosity.” Did he succeed? “Well, there are very few 20th-century designers that mastered every step of the creative process, from drawing to cutting, sewing and assembling a garment, and they both did it. So yes.” Here are some photos I took inside this divine exhibition – partially located in the Galerie, partially over Alaïa’s boutique-slash-studio on rue de Moussy – but to really feel that mastership of cut and every single detail, these garments should be seen in real life. Here’s my post on one of the previous exhibitions presented here in case you’ve missed it: “Adrian and Alaïa. The Art of Tailoiring.”

Galerie Azzedine Alaïa / 18 rue de la Verrerie

Azzedine Alaïa Boutique & Studio / 7 rue de Moussy

And now we’re jumping from Le Marais district to rue de Marignan (located near the posh Avenue Montaigne), where Alaïa’s second Paris flagship store is located. I’ve been there a few years ago after its opening, and now I was surprised to see that more floors are open to the clients. Here you will find the brand’s current collections (designed by Alaïa’s studio), as well as re-editions of some of the most cult Azzedine designs and motifs. Fact check: no other brand in Paris does as refined eveningwear as Alaïa’s maison. Oh, and shearling coats. When I saw that rack, my heart skipped a beat. Going to this store feels like a continuation of the exhibition tour, but this time you can try it all on and, if your wallet is a magic well, buy it. Never enough of Alaïa!

Azzedine Alaïa Boutique / 5 rue de Marignan

All photos by Edward Kanarecki.

(P.S. If you are inspired by my Parisian coverage, I’m really happy about, but please have in mind that now isn’t a safe time for any sorts of travelling. Stay at home!)

Mind Shifting. Balenciaga SS19

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Before mentioning the clothes, lets talk about Balenciaga‘s spring-summer 2019 venue that was, simply speaking, groundbreaking. Demna Gvasalia wanted to transport his guests into a sort of brain flow, a digital mind. The project – a tunnel filled with constantly changing, sci-fi animations – wouldn’t come together if the Georgian designer didn’t meet Jon Rafman, digital artist, at Art Basel. This collaboration resulted in the audience so stunned, that many couldn’t leave their seats minutes after the show ended. “My work explores new technologies and how our society, our consciousness, our interrelationships have changed,” Rafman told Vogue. He and Gvasalia collaborated at a distance, with full creative freedom given to the artist. The collection itself was as multi-faceted as Rafman’s art installation. It was the perfect balance between Gvasalia’s understanding of contemporary wardrobe and Cristobal Balenciaga’s design heritage. “I wanted to take a lot of things that are in our vocabulary, but give it this new dimension of elegance,” Demna said backstage. No sneakers this season, but a line-up of extraordinary dress-shaping (see the closing looks) and incredible tailoring. All kept in bold, even eye-scratching colours. “We challenged ourselves to make tailoring for today’s generation. How can they wear a suit—which they never do?” he explained. Get ready for shirt-jackets with matching trousers, fit for all genders. “It’s like a jogging suit, but it looks super-elegant in shape. There’s no obligation to wear a shirt and tie, because the jacket has become the shirt. Somehow, this is what I want to wear myself.” Innovative, intelligent, a bit hilarious, yet wearable, that’s what Balenciaga is this season. And, to be honest, that’s Gvasalia’s best collection in a while.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Best Ugly Shoes Of The Season

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Finding those Miu Miu cowboy boots from spring-summer 1999 on the web a few days ago made me think for a while. Those shoes can be worn  with the same (or even better today) relevance, whether it’s the 90s or 2017. My other thought was, ‘wait, I’ve seen that shoe shape countless of times this season’s’, starting from Calvin Klein and ending on Louis Vuitton. My last thought, and the most clear-headed one, was simple: they are just ugly. Lets not lie to ourselves, the colour, the wooden heel, the ultimately appalling look of these shoes makes them ugly in every single aspect.

But ugly is fun. And fashion loves fun. So, apparently, fashion loves ugliness. For instance, Miuccia Prada (the designer behind these cowboy stompers above) is the pioneer of ‘ugly’ in fashion, successfully selling nylon backpacks at Prada and pulling the envelope even further each season in questioning the term ‘good taste’. No one can help it – the uglier, the better. But am I frustrated with that fact? The answer is no. I will never forget Phoebe Philo’s massive impact on ugly footwear, after presenting at her Céline spring-summer 2013 runway THOSE sandals with fur. The instant reaction was bad, just read through the self-acclaimed fashionistas’ comments on some of Blogspot’s virtual junk-sites. But, as time has shown, those fluffies weren’t as bad as everybody thought back in 2013. Enter Zara today, and guess what you will find? Every second pair of sandals (and  heels) are covered with faux-fur. And no one’s complaining.

If you also have a strange affection for horrendously looking footwear (hope I’m not the only one here), that’s one for you – the season’s nine ugliest shoes, captioned.

We still have to wait a bit for Shayne Oliver‘s debut collection at Helmut Lang. But the brand’s newly revamped website has those boots on-line. They perfectly convey Lang’s unconventional sense for footwear with that shearling fur sticking out. Cringey? Cringey. But cool.

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Cowboy boots weren’t the only shoes appearing on Calvin Klein‘s runway. Raf Simons also has in offer these PVC stilettos, in different colours. Plastic and suede, that’s so drastically painful.

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Céline site claims that these boots are made in Spain according to traditional shoe-making technique. Sharp in the front, slouchy on the back. That peculiar, square silhouette. One of the seasons stranger things, that’s for sure. But of high quality!

Again, Miu Miu. How many Muppets were killed to make these? Note, they’re vegan.

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Francesco Risso‘ debut collection at Marni wasn’t only about really, but really messily edited clothing. The designer wasn’t only slammed by the critics for his ultra-psychedelic take on 60s, 70s, 80s, and God knows what else, but also for his shoes. An edgily curved heel. Patent leather. Fur-trimming. I wrote that ‘the uglier, the better’. Well, here’s an exception.

Miuccia hits this post the third time with her Prada footwear. Fur loafers versus those knee-length monsters. I like the fur story, but the boots with buckles everywhere look lame and nerd, even for Milan.

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I love Acne Studios doing ugly shoes every season. So many things are going on here – ribbed knit, rusty suede, some kind of glue-y material and polished leather. Oh dear, what Jonny Johansson is a genius.

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Demna Gvasalia spandex boots at Balenciaga are already the brand’s classic, but this season’s version in neon-green is toxic like a tropical frog.

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You might easily get lost in these Y / Project boots of gargantuan capacity. Glenn Martens knows no limits, and whatever other say – these shoes are as badass as the collection itself.

Hope nobody suffered while reading this post! It’s fashion, after all.

Eerie Chic. Balenciaga AW17

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Cristobal Balenciaga’s couture in today’s world – that’s what Demna Gvasalia‘s thought about for this season. His third, womenswear show for Balenciaga was the most literal nod towards the maison’s founder up to date, as it ended with voluminous, ball gowns. But they wouldn’t be Demna, if they weren’t at the proper level of peculiarity. One of them was a walking pile of feathers, styled with a bazaar bag (also covered in feathers, from the bottom to the top). Those colossal bags, instead of conventional clutches, were another clue that Gvasalia isn’t going straight haute couture path.

If talking of more wearable pieces, the Georgian designer went for something sensually chic – and this time, it was intriguingly elegant, no jokes. Femme fatale pencil skirts (made of haute car mats), over-sized sweaters, over-the-knee boots (last season’s spandex obsession continues) – it was sexy and eerie simultaneously. Although Demna has established his Balenciaga classics – the bags, duvet jackets, killer hills – and might already rest on his laurels, he thrives to develop a continuous language at the brand, every time with a new twist and new perspective.

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#2016 – Demna Gvasalia

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Vetements

Demna Gvasalia and the design collective behind Vetements presented more than one sin in the gothic-style Cathedral of America during their autumn-winter 2016 show. After a sleazy sex-club Le Depot and a cheesy Chinese restaurant, a church seemed to be the next unconventional choice for a show venue – however, the clothes purely (re)defined Vetements and it’s already well known, anti-fashion approach. Calling it a street wear brand is a colossal mistake, when you see the prices of these very well-manufactured coats and dresses, but in fact, Vetements is based on the sweat-shirts, which are transformed into new silhouettes every season. Moving away from the over-sized one, which stormed all the retail points last season, this time the hoodies had something of a zombie-look – the shoulders were lost somewhere in translation, and the solemn faces of the street-cast models perfectly matched the atmosphere of this undergound-kinky collection. The slogans – Sexual Fantasies, Big Daddy, for instance – had nothing in common with a proper communion.

Haute couture, or high dressmaking, refers to the art of creating exclusive, custom-fitted fashion for awfully rich women (and men). Couture is constructed by so called petites mains, the little hands of Parisian ateliers, who consider high quality, expensive textiles and extreme attention to detail as their priority. This long and exhausting definition of haute couture applies to all houses who have their exclusive lines working hard to satisfy their high-end customers. Spoiler: Vetements certainly doesn’t match this crowd.

When Demna Gvasalia‘s off-beat label appeared on the calendar of haute couture week in Paris, no one was sure what’s coming. At the beginning of this year, Vetements declared the change of their fashion show schedule, making it more “realistic” for them, and their customers; also, the brand, which is on everybody’s lips, decided to show womenswear and menswear in one show, just like few other brands lately. So, what did really happen during Vetements’ show, in the middle of Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad glamorama? Let’s look back at it.

Vetements is known for eerie venues, but Galerie Lafayette can be named as one of the most surreal choices up to date. The runway was located along the aisles of cosmetics, perfumes and sales, letting other brands’ logos interact with the fashion collectives’ ready-to-wear. But the meaning of “collaboration” reached further than that – it was a collection made entirely with other brands, including Juicy Couture, Brioni, Schott, Levi’s, Comme des Garçons Shirt, Reebok, Canada Goose, Dr. Martens, Alpha Industries, Eastpak, Lucchesse, Mackintosh and even Manolo Blahnik. An extraordinary company equals an explosive effect. Moreover, brands listed above benefitted from this occasion – Juicy Couture’s velour track suits suddenly became ironically “cool” again, while Manolo was willing to go all the way with exaggerating his duchess satin stilettos. “We’ve done thigh-high, so we asked, could you go waist-high this time for us?” Demna said backstage with excitement. Brioni, Italian tailoring brand for men, which is currently revamped under Justin O’Shea’s wings, let Vetements elongate and recut their classical blazers; Eastpak, every travellers’ favourite producer of backpacks, contributed to creation of the first, Vetements clutch.

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We thought we’d go straight to the brands who make all these things best, and ask to do something in our way with each one,” Gvasalia said. “The people who work at Vetements don’t really wear designer fashion—a lot of these are the labels they wear all the time.” The collection, in overall, is pure Vetements, even though the denim is by Levi’s and boots are from Texas’ cult Lucchesse. Styling is raw, while all beauty cannons are thrown away to the trash, looking at the models. If you’re desperate to seek the most couture-ish part of the collection, then it’s Juicy Couture’s velvet eveningwear – sleek, hooded dresses with zircon embellishments are sexy and somewhat… huh, elegant.

Balenciaga

We’re talking about Balenciaga now – the house, which was found by Cristobal Balenciaga in 1919, which raised the designer of our century, Nicolas Ghesquiere, and went under a three-year period of uncertainty with Alexander Wang‘s miserable tumblr-meets-couture attempts. But Demna is a designer, who knows best how to create desirable fashion which will sell (Vetements sales turnout is the perfect example) – the unexpected choice of him as the creative director of this historic maison is both exciting and well-reasoned.

But if you think that Gvasalia is about to change Balenciaga into a higher-cost Vetements, then you’re wrong – the autumn-winter outing seemed to state visible barriers between the post-Soviet soul of the eponymous brand, as it freshly implemented the spirit of Balenciaga into a modern-day wardrobe of pure edginess. Back in the days, Cristobal wanted to look into fashion’s future, and Gvasalia understands that, by giving the audience over-sized, cosmic duvet jackets, leather market bags and embroidered tea-dresses. The floral prints were a bold nod to Balenciaga’s temperament and Spanish origins – while the tailoring, also a long-forgotten signature of the house, was revamped. “How do you persuade a woman to wear a two-piece suit who is not the German Chancellor?” Grey, flannel two-button jacket and a slit pencil skirt, in which the shoulders were slightly over-sized, “was the posture and the attitude, and Cristóbal’s way of working with the body I found interesting.

In other words, Gvasalia’s debut for Balenciaga isn’t favoured by me and by others just because it’s a debut – these clothes, the concept, and the styling are ground-breaking and intriguingly look back at the codes of Cristobal Balenciaga.

Honestly, Balenciaga‘s spring-summer 2017 collection has been the most anticipated show of the entire Paris Fashion Week. In the most unobvious ways, Demna revives Balenciaga’s couture elements since his first season, reinterpreting the brand’s archives and writing a new chapter. For spring, the Georgian designer explores the intimate relationship between couture and fetishism – two unlikely things that in fact are closely related to each other. Obsessive interest in achieving a result of absolute beauty, which goes in pair with wearing couture, is dangerously connected to a nearly sexual pleasure. When Cristobal’s maison was at its peak, a synthetic, stretchy fabric appeared in 1958 – spandex. Of course, Balenciaga’s aesthetic didn’t match with nonchalance of spandex at those times. But in 2016, Demna feels a strong connection between ‘kinkiness’ of spandex, and haute couture’s endless desire of looking perfect.

Just like couture, spandex isn’t easy. But this didn’t stop Demna and his studio to send out a line of models wearing spandex in the brightest colours and the most eye-catchy, floral prints. The stilettos (which transformed into leggings-like pants) were jaw-dropping. He kept them in purple, orange, pink and even white in order to nail it to the fullest. The semi-shoes, semi-pants looked eerily sexy and glamorous, to a surprise. Gvasalia’s thing for fetish didn’t end here: latex capes, extremely sleek silhouettes and patent leather were the show’s highlights, too.

Gvasalia’s troubled youth in Georgia affected his future mind. When he was young, he was starving for the new; now, he can easily convey those childhood cravings into a multifaceted collection for a very grown-up house. Striped market totes resembled the bags from bazaars, which stored fake Adidas and Levis, so well-remembered to the generation of the post-Iron Curtain. Ornamental brooches made me think of cheesy souvenirs which are easily available in the nearest Euro-shop. The nails with zircons had a lot to do with the 2000s Paris Hilton over-the-top style. And then, the music that still hides in the depths of your grandpa’s Nokia: Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game“. The final effect? Demna left the guests panting and drooling over his jackets with shoulder pads, granny dresses and trench-parkas.

It certainly was his year.