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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Blizzard. Balenciaga AW22

In 2022, Demna is the one and only designer who is able to connect and interwine design with the tough reality, creating fashion that is meaningful, emotional and truly, truly capturing the zeitgeist. Before sharp lights illuminated the giant snow-filled arena erected within Le Bourget where Balenciaga’s most epic and emotional show ever played out, Demna (who no longer uses his surname in a professional capacity) recited a poem in Ukrainian over the speakers. “It’s a poem to Ukraine about being strong, about focusing on love, and that its sons will protect it. That’s not a good translation, but the people I wanted to send this message to will understand it,” he said backstage after the show. On every seat, he had placed a T-shirt dyed in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag, and a written statement explaining how he had decided to go on with the show because he didn’t want to give in “to the evil that has already hurt me so much”. Thirty years ago, when he was just 10 years old, Demna and his family fled their native Abkhazia in Georgia, after local separatists with ties to Russia claimed the land and killed more than 5,000 ethnic Georgians. Originally, Demna meant for his giant, manmade arctic set to reflect the ecological decline we’re experiencing in a time of climate change. “It was a comment on what’s going on in the world. Maybe in 50 years, people will have to go to these places to have an artificial experience of a certain weather condition that we take for granted,” he said. “But it turned into something else, which often happens with my shows, somehow.” Watching his largely black-clad cast fight their way through a snowstorm in the mountain-like territory he had built was terrifyingly apropos and – with the addition of a traditional Slavonic piano soundtrack – completely heart-wrenching. Some were dressed in their finest eveningwear, others in towels, some carrying their shoes on their backs. There’s a very blurry line between fetishizing a humanitarian tragedy and sending out a heart-felt message. While other designers would not be able to tackle that topic, in case of Demna, everything felt utterly right at this turbulent moment in contemporary history.

Next to the more haunting imagery that unfolded on his runway – those half-naked people fighting their way through the snow – garments had an air of disposability about them, the kind of make-do and mend we associate with times of turbulence. They were rooted in his own memories: handbags looked like fabric sacks tied together with drawstrings. Floral dresses evoked the repurposing of old upholstery. As they wafted in the harsh wind, the trains of evening gowns appeared shredded as if they had been beaten by the weather. Super light trench coats were constructed so they could be compressed into their own pockets. A bodysuit was created entirely from yellow tape wrapped around the body (in the audience, Kim Kardashian wore an identical piece she said had taken 30 minutes to tape up in the morning). “I used to do that as a little Georgian boy playing with curtains and tape, and being punished for it,” Demna smiled. “It’s a revenge for that; a payback moment. But it also made everything less madame, less bourgeois, less upper-class,” he said, referring to a fur coat in trompe l’oeil embroidery wrapped in tape. “It’s no longer the image of a rich lady walking in an expensive area. It breaks that. I like that an element like that can break a silhouette and re-contextualise it.”

It’s only innocent people who die in war. I’ve experienced that and actually blocked it out for 30 years, until I started reading the news last week. It brought all this pain back, like anyone who has gone through that,” Demna declared in the show’s press release. “The message is love, always. And fashion has to assume that, at least in terms of taking a position on it.” The show was an example of how important context is to a staging like this in the age of social media; how important it was to know Demna’s own story to grasp the authenticity behind the imagery he presented. It was an epic, terrifying, beautiful, and heartbreaking experience in a season when the contrasts between fashion and its surrounding worlds couldn’t have been greater. As Demna said, “To me, fashion somehow doesn’t matter right now.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.