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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