Mud Show. Balenciaga SS23

When Balenciaga invited its guests to a “mud show“, they meant it literally. There were tons of mud on the spring-summer 2023 runway, piled up at the sides of the stadium space, and dug out like bomb craters in the center, staged by the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. The raw odeur of decomposition, a custom-made scent by Sissel Tolaas, blasted in the face. Demna did it yet again: he shook up the fashion industry like no one else, reminding about rising inequality, the return of fascism, wars happening all over the globe, and the very real threat of nuclear war. Kanye West opened the show in a tactical jacket and leather pants with reinforced knees, military garb topped off with a baseball cap and a logo mouthguard. The ragtag band that followed was rough around the edges to say the least, their faces beat-up and their clothes treated to look old and beat-up too (requiring a “couple of days” more than making pristine luxury, Demna said). Some carried bags made from stuffed animals that looked like they’d been through a war. When the 75 models made their circuit on the wet track, dirt splashed their bare ankles and soaked their hems, the 3-D printed Dutch clogs being no match for the mud. Demna has had his own experience of war – he fled Georgia with his family when he was a young boy of 10. Being gay compounded his struggles. “I’ve felt like I’ve been punched in my face for being who I am,” he said, but “you have to stand up and continue walking, kind of like this crusade of discovering who you are and defending that.” He called this a “very me show.” It was heavy on grafitti’d hoodies and ravaged jeans, but there was also evening wear, in clingy T-shirt jersey or glamorous pleats. These were survivors against the odds, a point Demna made by sending out men clutching baby carriers propped with eerily lifelike dolls. “Naturally I’m an optimist, but I cannot be very optimistic right now,” he said. “I think this show actually expresses that very much – the music, the set, it spoke about the moment in which we live.” To finish, Demna sent out a dress made from cut-up parts of black Balenciaga Lariat bags, a make-do-and-mend masterpiece that also pointed up our nasty overconsumption habits. Remember, he sent every last piece through the mud, a “sacrilege” by luxury standards. Using fashion to comment on the crises that plague us is a tricky business. Of course Demna wants us to shop, and of course his bosses do, too. But when it comes time to spend, my money’s on the guy who looks around and is terrified, not the sleepwalkers.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Otherwordly. Balenciaga AW22 Couture

To be honest with you, this haute couture season didn’t really start for me until Balenciaga happened. The 51st Balenciaga haute couture collection. And the second coming from Demna. Nobody knew what to expect, the anticipation had the fashion insiders on an ecstatic high on a mid-week morning, and in the end, he didn’t dissapoint. To the sound of a love poem voiced by AI, a breed of haute couture humanoids encased in black neoprene, their faces uniformly erased in high-tech reflective face shields, stalked the Balenciaga haute couture salon. It looked like an invasion by a sinister breed marching on their spiked, chiseled space boots, ready to take over the earth once humanity has wiped itself out. This was Demna’s dystopian introduction to his latest couture collection for the house, which he shows annually. “This year I decided that I needed to put more of myself into it, and kind of find a new future, you know?” he said afterwards. “This is why the lineup started with very otherworldly, almost futuristic neoprene looks, which was my idea of interpreting gazar in 2022.” Invention, and taking time over it, is central to moving the art of couture forward. Famously, gazar was the sculptural silk which Cristobal Balenciaga invented with the fabric manufacturer Abrahams in 1958, in order to create the magnificently voluminous gowns he became known for. Demna’s equivalent – shaped into these wickedly kinky hyper-molded second-skin scuba dresses and tailored jackets – was engineered with a new kind of neoprene, made in collaboration with a sustainably-oriented Japanese manufacturer.

In the second half of the show, where faces were revealed, Demna’s friends, muses, and brand ambassadors walked. Kim Kardashian in a deep-plunge corset and draped skirt. Demna’s musician husband BFRND in opera gloves and a couture tank-top. Nicole Kidman in a silver gown. Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid in draped pops of colour. Eliza Douglas in the most perfect hourglass coat. Renata Litvinova in an all-black feather-mad cocktail dress. Naomi Campbell was the ultimate Balenciaga Maleficent. But back to his motivation for a minute. Last season, Demna caused a sensation by dealing with the stark, tailored elegance of the Balenciaga couture aesthetic. Now, he was putting himself first – owning an haute couture version of the streetwear that he has been responsible for elevating to designer fashion status. Hoodies, sweatshirts, worn-out denim, and parkas – some made of upcycled originals, others shot with aluminium to create crinkled couture-like volumes – followed the dystopian Balenciaga neoprene tribe. The commercial conundrum he faces is finding a way to connect couture with the following that is his main, democratically-based youth constituency – represented by all the outside spectators whose cheers poured in through the salon windows as the sidewalk turned into a celebrity-spotting event.

To square that circle, a new Balenciaga couture shop had opened on the Avenue Georges V, where certain limited edition items, like the upcycled pieces, Balenciaga souvenir porcelain figurines, and the ‘Speaker’ bag toted in the show can be bought. “There are items that will be ready to buy already. After the last show, people started to ask me, ‘how do we buy it?’ People, especially from the younger generation of maybe up-and-coming couture customers, don’t know, and we want to establish the dialogue. Create some kind of an entry to the salon.” But in a sense, Demna was also meeting Cristobal coming back. The arc of the show, he said, “was going from future into the past.” Thus the hyper-extravagance and drama of the vast crinolines and slinky, draped, train-trailing of his celebrity-walked finale. It’s still a debate whether the bride who couldn’t walk through the doors and struggled a lot to move in her heavily embellished dress was an art performance or an actual runway casualty. I’m fine with both versions of the story.

If it was more personal this season, there was a touching reason behind it. Explaining the AI-voiced poem at the opening of the show, Demna said they were the words of a love poem he’d written to his husband. “Because je t’aime is the most beautiful word in the language to me. I realized that couture, what I do, is the only thing I love doing and I want to be doing. And somehow this was a love letter to the person I love most in my life, and to the work, the art that I do. Both.

Collages by Edward Kanarecki.

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Balenciaga Hits Berlin

Balenciaga has finally arrived to Berlin with its flagship store. The floral Crocs wedges! The candy-sweet velvet Cagole! The deconstructed ball-dresses! The gargantuan rubber boots! All the Demna classics under one roof.

Kurfürstendamm 194 / Berlin

Photos by Edward Kanarecki.

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Money Is The Reason We Exist. Balenciaga Resort 2023

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.

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