In London right now, the Victoria & Albert Museum is busy preparing a new exhibition, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, which opens in May. Meanwhile, in Paris, the storied label was busy preparing its Fall/Winter 2017 collection, the third ready-to-wear instalment from Demna Gvasalia. It’s still the hot ticket, the brand in his hands now alluding an austere cool that derives from Gvasalia’s own label, Vetements.
“Today there is great interest in the Balenciaga brand and its new creative director,” says Cassie Davies-Strodder, the curator of the exhibition that coincides with the centenary of the founding of the fashion house by Cristóbal Balenciaga, and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris. Making it the ideal time to stage the exhibition, which focuses mostly on the era 1950 to 1960, acknowledged as one of Balenciaga’s most creative periods.
“Cristóbal Balenciaga became one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th Century due to the enduring and modern appeal of his designs and his uncompromising integrity and vision," explains Davies-Strodder. “Both Balenciaga and Gvasalia share an independent vision. Gvasalia cites Balenciaga’s 360 degree approach to looking at the body as a key influence on his work.”
The Balenciaga Fall/Winter 2017 ready-to-wear show in Paris (by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION)
Today’s show certainly tapped into this: aside from the signature layered looks - and some new babydoll apron-style dresses - there came a finale procession of ball gowns which marked the re-introduction of Balenciaga’s haute couture history. A selection of shapes and volumes from the couture archive were here re-interpreted with the practical addition of pockets, and are available made to order. There were tiered empire line numbers, one a serious fluster of feathers with a matching bag, all of them huge, dramatic showstoppers that swept through the catwalk space. This would be how to make an entrance.
If there’s one criticism that Demna has received, it’s that - much like Alessandro Michele at Gucci - for both his own brand and Balenciaga, the collections tend to stay tight to what they know and what we’ve seen. They can be deemed repetitive. So the introduction of this eveningwear strand added a new dimension and was a welcome push to show the potential of the brand, beyond that of the Vetements’ obscurity - much loved though the look still is.
Of course, said quirks and oddities, subversions and spanners in the fashion works were still at play on the catwalk too. Jackets and coats were contorted into cape-shawls that had a Lady of the Manor elegance to them, swathed over the shoulder and fastened on occasion with a brooch. In fact, there was a lot of jewellery to be seen – wrists laden with bangles and clustered with charm bracelets, a scarf here and there.
Elsewhere, and obvious in the shirts that protruded at the back and skirts that pointed out oddly at the hip, was “the reconsideration of existing objects”. The realisation of which was in fact car-mats made into wrap skirts or patched to the back of shirts. There were nylon spare tire covers for totes, wing mirrors as clutch bags. It was industrial and industrious.
“Additionally, they [Balenciaga and Gvasalia] have not shied away from challenging the fashion system and the way they operate in it,” Davies-Strodder continues - and sums it up: “The brand will continue to transform and challenge the fashion industry norms, whether that be in pioneering new silhouettes through clever cutting and design ingenuity or through changing the way in which it presents its collections.”