Real Life. Balenciaga Pre-Fall 2019

Lately, all designers want to do clothes for ‘real life’. But it’s Demna Gvasalia who actually started that trend-not-trend, first with Vetements, then with time at Balenciaga. The pre-fall 2019 look-book, that sees models walk with their phones in front of their faces or making calls, is all about Gvasalia’s Balenciaga best-selling classics: sharp tailoring, denim, over-sized volumes and exaggerated logos. It doesn’t excite much, as it feels like a transition from the summer show from last October to the winter collection we’ve seen in March. But it’s a pre-collection after all. And it’s hitting stores at this very moment.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Reality Check. Balenciaga AW19

That’s a fact: Demna Gvasalia delivered the best coats (outerwear, even) of the season. Literally every coat that appeared in Balenciaga’s autumn-winter 2019 made me drool! Those volumes. The designer focused on the streets of Paris and how Parisians really dress (forget the Jeanne Damas and Caroline de Maigret archetype of Parisian chic). He thoroughly investigated outfits people wear in their metro commute, to the parties, on a dog walk, for groceries. And here we are with more than 100 looks, featuring faux-fur, floor-sweeping coats in Cristobal Balenciaga-esque architectural silhouettes to vintage-y leather jackets and quilted belted robes in satin. Tailoring was strong, too, just as the dresses. From the polished, sleek mini-dresses that closed the show to flowing, maxi-gowns (like the one Stella Tennant had on, made from some fancy, metallic fringes), each looked was distinctly Gvasalia – sharp, ironic, delightfully confusing. I really loved this one ‘super-nornal’ outfit that featured a black turtleneck, leather slouchy pants and a pink, polka-dot shopper bag. That’s exactly how editors dress in Paris. Again, this collection was extremely Paris, but not in this fashioned-up manner we often get to see. As the designer said backstage, “It’s real. When I’m on the streets of Paris, that’s what I see.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Anti-Social. Vetements AW19

Vetementsspring-summer 2019 collection was violent. But Vetements’ autumn-winter 2019 outing felt even more aggressive. Somehow, I’m not surprised. Demna Gvasalia (and his collective) isn’t afraid of speaking what’s on their mind, whether it’s confronting the difficult past, hard present or uncertain future. The label found inspiration in the dark web, where drugs, guns and other illegal, even more frightening things are available and sold worldwide. Hacker style? Geek chic? Yes, but cross out the latter, ‘fashion’ word. The collection was called “Anti-Social” and opened with a twisted homage to Steve Jobs. The distinctive, black turtleneck worn with a pair of jeans read: “Warning: what you are about to see will disturb you. There is a dark side of humanity the censors won’t let you see, but we will. View it your own risk.” An item that will sell out within a moment, but has a meaning that’s not as frivolous as it may seem. Other than the Vetements classics – XXL hoodies, floral tea-dresses, distorted puffer jackets – this offering had something you would never consider a fashion statement: anonymous-wear. Black fleece masks inside hoods and  jackets with flaps covering the face with a peep-hole for looking out (and, occasionally, for taking photos through). “I realize there is no privacy. When I’m on public transport, doing work on my phone, I often see people overlooking it, or taking photographs of me,” Demna said after the show. An avalanche of contemporary problems appears in your mind, when you think of it: surveillance society, facial recognition technology, the fear of revealing our true selves without the social media filter. But then, the balaclavas make you think of terrorists and fierce protests that move like a tsunami through such countries as France. Gvasalia and Vetements sense danger and crisis that spread across our world. They know fashion won’t help it out, but at least, might inform the ones who want to be informed. To some extent, at least.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Demna Serves Classics. Balenciaga Resort 2019

Balenciaga’s resort 2019 look-book got released this morning, and it couldn’t be more Balenciaga – as we know it from Demna Gvasalia. True, there are less hoodies and much less sneakers (now, replaced by more classic looking black men’s boots). But the hybrid trench coats for him and her, voluminous pussy bow blouses, pleated dresses (in cheesy-chic flag print this season), dad jeans, oversized duvet jackets and XXL bazaar bags are all here. Those are the already-cult pieces that seem to be here with Balenciaga for years, not for a few seasons. Other than new colour combinations and a number of tailoring additions, the pre-collection brings nothing new to the table – except the fact that Gvasalia’s designs have completely synthesised with the maison he designs for. Still, there’s one element that will surely catch your attention if you seek the newness. “The symbol on the bags is the one for transgender.” The arrival of the pink and the blue leather shopping bags printed with the black circle, arrow, and cross couldn’t be better timed. First, they look great, second – they defy Trump’s intention to erase the transgender agenda. “I often try to include some messages that are important to be spread,” Gvasalia says. “It’s almost like advertising an idea, this very strong symbol.” Love it or hate it, he can’t go wrong.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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.

Georgia. Vetements SS19

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This was Demna Gvasalia‘s most personal Vetements collection up to date, and definitely, the one that had an extremely powerful meaning. Or rather meanings, since the number of messages the designer and the anonymous fashion collective sent out this season is far from being singular. If you’ve been obsessing over Gvasalia for a couple of seasons now, you surely know his background, the war-torn Georgia. It’s here where Demna and his brother Guram grew up together in the ’90s, and all the atrocities happened – specifically, in 1993, when the Gvasalia family had to flee their home in Sukhumi after the entrace of soldiers and bombing.

“I tried to face this angst and fear and pain in this show. I didn’t want to remember before, I didn’t want to go that far.” Something changed. With more than half of the models coming from Georgia, an extremely long wedding table set up under a bridge in Périphérique (an area in the outskirts of Paris, where migrants live in encampments along the highway) and music blasting, anything could happen in the middle of the haute couture week. But nobody expected that there will be war on the runway. From sweatshirts with the most vulgar Russian slogans (even though these words are quite very justified in case of the suffering Georgia went through) and lots of camo prints to masked men in leather gears and over-sized jackets covered in Georgian, Ukrainian, Turkish and USA flags (a nod to current nationalist tendencies across the world?), one sees lots of untamed aggression in this collection. Moreover, Demna commented on the current national affair in contemporary Georgia, connected to clubbing. One of the pieces had a phrase on, this time in Georgian, saying: “God Forgive Us.” The designer noted that “they’ve recently closed down clubs in Georgia. A line of priests came out to block the protest against it.” Injustice and repression of the youth, that continues to strangle the nation up to today, frustrates the designer. No wonder why. After all, it’s Gvasalia who has contributed to the revival of that reckless, ‘whatever’ attitude in the fashion industry since the first moments of Vetements’ existence.

But other than the history-heavy feelings, there were garments that respectfully nodded to Georgian heritage, like the fringed rug dress or the elegant, pleated bride (or widow) gowns. Still, everything had the stamp of melancholia, mourning. That wasn’t a typical Vetements collection that makes you want to go out for a major booze party. So, will the average Vetements customer, driven by the cult of sweatshirts, t-shirts and sneakers, get anything that’s deep about this intense collection? People don’t want to read long paragraphs about history, especially in the era of social media. Thankfully, the brand found a solution that will educate the eager ones. A Vetements app is about to be released, and it will teach the users on Georgia and such events like the “Ethnic Cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia.” How promising is it to see that fashion is no longer just about clothes and revenue.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Consolidated. Balenciaga Pre-Fall 2018

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Looking at Demna Gvasalia‘ pre-fall 2018 collection for Balenciaga, it’s quite clear that the designer has fully consolidated his persona into the maison. To such extent, that within his five seasons at the brand he has established cult pieces and cult vibe (like the spandex pantashoes, the Knife mule, the tea-dress, THAT “messy” look). Also, wherever you look, Balenciaga is an international top-seller. But once you take a peek at Gvasalia’s past approach towards fashion (that made everyone feel obsessed with him and his Vetements pals), and see what’s at Balenciaga now, I guess the ‘bad guy’ of fashion dramatically became a success story of the big luxury corporation, Kering. I know a pre-collection should sell, but right now it’s just about flipping prints and switching one neon colour for another. The spark that used to be there with every Balenciaga collection by Gvasalia, even the commercial ones, has gone. Let’s hope it’s a temporary phase…

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Foamed Tailoring. Balenciaga AW18

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“After two years at Balenciaga, I wanted to take all the codes of the house and filter them so they can be one aesthetic and one ethic,” said Demna Gvasalia. What seemed to be a reflective season for Balenciaga‘s creative director, felt at a first glance like a very, very predictable Gvasalia offering. Coats layered over ten other coats, dad-looks, a play with corporate dressing. In other words – well, we’ve seen enough of that. I thought: is there a place for something new?

But then, you and I had no clue that what seemed to be the most ‘basic’ about this collection appeared to be fashion’s revolution.  Thanks to a high-tech computer-enabled process, the women’s and men’s blazers were… molded. The tailored silhouettes had been 3-D scanned, the fittings were done digitally and then the forms were printed out. Fabrics that are well known across the traditional industry, like tweed or wool, were then bonded to a “lightweight foam”. Shortly speaking – that’s incredible. Today’s fashion needs that kind of progress a lot, to continue being exciting and desired. I really can’t wait to see how the designer develops the idea further across Balenciaga in the next seasons.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.