Elevation. Balenciaga AW21 Couture

18 months were worth the wait. Demna Gvasalia‘s first (and the maison‘s 50th) haute couture collection for Balenciaga is one of the best things I’ve seen in fashion… in years. Yesterday, a fierce and noble elegance for our new age stalked through the couture salons of Balenciaga at 10 Avenue Georges V. The sound of the gasps of fashion journalists and clients was heard again for the first time in the 53 years since Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his couture house. Monsieur Balenciaga showed in silence to focus the audience on the line, cut, and presence of his clothes. So did Gvasalia. Facing the biggest test of his career, the designer brought a heightened dignity to his own revolutionary vision of 21st-century people while simultaneously honoring the greatest couturier of the 20th century. “It was my minute of silence to the heritage of Cristóbal Balenciaga but also a moment of silence to just shut up for a minute,” he said. “The pandemic made me take that minute of silence – or few months of silence – and really understand what I like in this ‘metier,’ as Cristóbal used to call it,” he said. “And I realized it’s not about fashion – actually, I love clothes. I’ve been talking about clothes, clothes, clothes rather than fashion.”

His couture debut had rigorous black tailoring, sober and austere; expansively extravagant gestures of taffeta; swathed stoles; gorgeous flowered embroideries; and the offhand drama of set-back collars. And haute couture jeans – hand-made on original American looms bought by Japanese manufacturers and commissioned there. To the point: the feat he managed with this ultra-aspirational collection was not to turn his back on the aesthetics of the street and underground but to give the inclusive values of a generation a sensational elevation. Confidence, grandeur, ease: His focus was on how to imbue these clothes with “couture allure, posture, and attitude,” he said. How to give equal value to a black turtleneck, pair of jeans, utility jacket, or T-shirt as to a grand ball gown or skirt suit? “People put me in the box of someone who designs hoodies and sneakers – and that’s not really who I am. I really wanted to show who I am as a designer, considering the legacy [of the house] that I’m lucky enough to have here,” he explained. “It was a challenge to find a balance between the fusion of the architectural legacy, the history, and what I stand for.” We witnessed Gvasalia resolving all that, upgrading everything that he’s liked and tried out and established as his language at speed at Balenciaga over the past few years. All his giant tailoring, oversized shirts, bathrobes, jeans, T-shirts, and utility jackets, perfected and carried off by his diverse (though still mainly mono-size) cast of models. “I don’t like standardized beauty. I don’t know why it’s supposed to be beauty if someone told you that,” he said. Cristóbal Balenciaga was the original couturier who had no time for designing for anyone other than the individual client. His house models were routinely described as monstrously ugly by the press. In his own way, in all kinds of different contexts, across a ridiculously long time gap, Gvasalia found a connection in that.

In his return to the physical, real-time, human, hand-stitched present of the presentation, there was something here that felt more radical than anything. “We cannot only look into the future. We have to look into the past to see where we’re going,” he said. “Clothes have a psychological impact on me. I realized they make me happy- and I realized that’s the purpose of fashion. It’s not about the frenzy and buzz – and the white noise, I call it, of the digital mayhem we’re living through. The essence of it is my passion and the tools. I realized that couture is the best way to manifest it. And this is what really turns me on.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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


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.


Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Best Ugly Shoes Of The Season


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.