The stage of the Balenciaga runway show was flooded with water. On the ceiling, giant screens were displaying images of stormy skies that would turn into whirlwinds and form vortices like tornadoes while frightening birds, which were fleeing in whole flocks. The skies would darken and then flare-up, and the (empty) seats in the first three rows were partially flooded. Was it Demna Gvasalia's intention to make such a strong metaphorical statement? One that did not only imply that our planet is going in the wrong direction, but that also pointed the finger at our (small) fashion scene, which seems to have lost touch with reality? The timing couldn't have been better since Balenciaga showcased its latest offering on Sunday, the very same day on which new sanitary measures have been implemented by the French authorities to prevent the proliferation of Covid-19 in confined spaces. Regardless of this significant sanitary threat, earlier that day, before the Balenciaga show, a plethora of fashion professionals rushed to Kanye West's "Sunday Service" as if they were rushing to see the messiah himself. In the narrow Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, West's improvised gospel performance — which had no connection whatsoever to the Yeezy presentation that he held on Monday evening — kept his guests entertained for 90 minutes. And even though most of the journalists and buyers who attended the event are usually the first to complain whenever a presentation lasts more than 12 minutes, this time around, they didn't. Tightly packed against each other in an overheated room, these "happy few" were, for the most part, attending the shows in Milan a few days before they arrived in Paris for Fashion Week. And now, as the so-called Fashion Month comes to an end, they are all about to go back home, in all corners of the world, just as if they had never heard of the Coronavirus outbreak.
Back to Balenciaga: as the models hit the runway, most of Balenciaga's silhouettes touched the ground and got soaked in the water that was flooding the podium like an oil slick. The message conveyed by this setting was overwhelmingly loud, however, there was little new in the cuts and shapes of the 105 showcased looks, which draw their essence from Gvasalia's signature style. And yet, the challenge in a designer's profession lies precisely in interpreting a brand's heritage over and over again, from one season to another, by providing collections that do not resemble each other, but that must be part of a continuum nevertheless. From May 7th onwards, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will address this very issue through an exhibition named "About Time: Fashion and Duration." "For a long time, fashion has been presented as a perpetual movement, where new styles would emerge one after another, always opposing old and new, as well as past and present in a state of disruption," explained Andrew Bolton, Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, at the exhibition's press conference on February 27th in Paris. As a matter of fact, this pendulum of fashion implies that a strong fashion trend often ends up causing its very own rejection as well. This phenomenon, however, has become less apparent for three significant reasons: not only did the number of existing brands multiply at all price points, but the Internet has made new products available to the whole world before they even hit the stores. The general rhythm (design, production and distribution) has accelerated considerably. "The time issue has been on everyone's lips for the past few years," said Bolton. "Designers are constantly being confronted with new challenges related to the multiple demands of our increasingly digitally savvy and connected world." As evidenced by the Balenciaga show, more and more often, the setting of a runway show becomes more important than the collection itself. Nevertheless, this contemporary distortion associated with our society's visual obsession for "live streaming" was not able to take its toll on Paris, where designers are permanently forced to compete against each other and therefore be their most authentic self.
Speaking of which, earlier last week, Anthony Vaccarello unveiled a collection that featured colour codes and fabrics that were very much in tune with the spirit of Saint Laurent. He reinterpreted this heritage with a strong personal touch that perfectly suited his personality and the Maison itself. Bruno Sialelli, for his part, brought some clarity to the creative message he conveyed at Lanvin. Simplified, his offer featured various and varied references and ultimately gained in modernity. Jonathan Anderson's Fall-Winter offering for Loewe was also very much to the point, albeit the designer's references to another era in terms of cuts and volumes... Some dresses were reminiscent of court dress, just like Ann Demeulemeester's, where Sébastien Meunier took over the framework of the basketry formerly worn under petticoats and reinterpreted it in a modern way. All these collections were light years away from the sportswear trend that still dominated the industry not so long ago. In almost every collection, the feminine gender asserted itself. Even at Valentino, where Pierpaolo Piccioli opted for black and had most of his models wearing thick-soled boots, his collection exuded a sense of femininity that is very dear to the Roman house. Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, as well as Lisi Herrebrugh and Rushemy Botter at Nina Ricci, also left their personal marks on their collections, while incorporating some of their company's DNA. The designers who are more commonly known as being "independent" are also worth mentioning for their efforts to establish strong identities throughout their collections. Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto were leading this season, but let's not forget Dries Van Noten, Junya Watanabe, Rick Owens, Lutz Huelle, Olivier Theyskens, Haider Ackermann, Marine Serre, Koché, Atlein, Rohk, Thom Browne, Stella McCartney... As well as Xuly Bët who made a notable comeback on the runway after keeping a low profile for many years. In the 1990s, Xuly Bët's Founder and Creative Director, Lamine Kouyate pioneered upcycling by creating collections crafted from flea market clothes. Regrettably, recycling was not a trend at the time. That being said, it's all the rage right now. But for how long?