Balenciaga‘s Demna Gvasalia wouldn’t be Demna Gvasalia if he didn’t sprinkle a pinch of irony to his fashion. “It’s a deep fake of a fashion show,” declared the designer ahead of the launch of the ultra-high-tech video for his spring-summer 2022 “Clones” collection. “What we see online is not what it is. What’s real and what’s fake?” Ostensibly, one model – the artist Eliza Douglas, who has opened or closed Balenciaga shows since Gvasalia’s first collection for the house in 2016 – appears wearing both women’s and menswear on a white runway in front of a black-clad audience. But no one was “there” and no one is “real.” “It’s a show that never happened,” Gvasalia laughed. “But the clothes are real; they were made.” Accompanying information came in a deluge of language detailing the techniques the video producer Quentin Deronzier deployed to fake up Douglas’s appearance: photogrammetry, C.G. grafting of her scanned face, planar tracking, rotoscoping, machine learning, and 3D modeling. We’re in a new world now, in large part because all designers have had to grapple with 15 months of the pandemic preventing real-life show gatherings. What’s the alternative onscreen? Gvasalia, for one, has delighted in grabbing the opportunity to shift the medium of brand Balenciaga ever further into the realms of multilevel, conversation-and-meme-generating entertainment. There’s the Hacker Project – this season’s return match with Gucci, in which Balenciaga has “stolen” classic Gucci bag shapes and reprinted them with BBs instead of GGs, just as Alessandro Michele reproduced Demna Balenciaga patterns and diagonal branding in his last collection. There’s a Gucci best seller GG buckle belt redone with BBs too. “Alessandro and I are very different,” Gvaslia remarked. “But we both like to question this whole question around branding and appropriation…because everyone does it, whether they say it or not.” One of the totes comes knowingly scrawled with the graffiti legend “This is not a Gucci bag” – a reference to René Magritte’s 1929 painting The Treachery of Images. Questioning the authenticity of what we’re looking at has been going on in art since Surrealist times. The result here: a perfectly oxymoronic range of “genuine counterfeits” for our mind-twisted times. Other than the Gucci clash, there’s no mistaking Gvasalia’s roster of signatures: the supersized tailoring and coats; the loose printed dresses; the ski jackets, hoodies, and streetwear; the cyber-Gothic denim; the severely elegant eveningwear. With them, a vast range of distinctive Balenciaga accessories, from a reissue of the Crocs collaboration to the diamanté bow jewelry that originated in the house archive. There’s a part of Gvasalia that wanted to illuminate his fake runway with a bit of light and hope, he said. The first look to step out, in black velvet with a heavy veil, refers back to his prophetically apocalyptic show of February 2020. “It’s almost like mourning something, where we’ve all been,” he said. “But I wanted it to go into a bright space. And I ended it with a red ballroom dress.” After the retreat of the Balenciaga clones, he has the exact opposite planned: the showing of his much-anticipated first haute couture show, in real life, in Paris in early July. Handmade, in the works for more than a year, in front of a small audience, it’ll be his next big creative step forward. Can’t wait.
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.