PARIS – Can you design a redemption story for yourself without dramatically changing your identity?
This is the central question of Balenciaga’s fall 2023 show, perhaps highest stakes collection of the entire fashion season that begins in New York on February 10 and ends on March 7.
Of course, it is also a question that is asked again and again in this particular moment, when the conduct of our sacred cows is tried before the courts of public opinion, and those who have emerged through contagion also falls into that.
That leaves Balenciaga showcasing less of a collection than a cultural test case: essentially a black-mirror version of epic social commentary scenes disguised as shows that helped propel the brand. stratospheric success and $2 billion in annual sales, planned by the brand’s eponymous creative director Demna; shows about celebrity, war, capitalism and even dust (in all its iterations). Only this time, it’s personal.
Brief summary for those who don’t remember how did we get here?.
About a month after the October dirt show, opened by Ye, the artist was formerly known as Kanye West (a relationship that spawned a relationship of his own. little controversy story with Ye’s subsequent White Lives Matter program and a series of anti-Semitic and anti-Black comments), Balenciaga published two advertising campaigns. Among them, one involved young children holding teddy bear-like bags in slave clothes; The other depicts an office in which buried in a huge pile of papers are documents from a Supreme Court case on child pornography.
A flurry of conspiracy theories, chaos and internet chaos ensued and took on a life of its own, with Demna and the house’s chief executive, Cédric Charbit, at its center. The brand’s seemingly unstoppable growth was halted.
Since then, they’ve been quietly working to get things right, including face-to-face examinations with industry insiders and small apologies for given system and judgment failures. allowed the campaigns to take place, but Sunday’s performance was the biggest public statement since the outrage.
It was held in the old Carrousel du Louvre, a general conference-like area in the museum that was briefly used as the center of fashion week, before the designers decided on them. did not want to share the same monotonous white space, no matter how the address was stored, and began to try to confront each other with national monuments.
This time, the stage, the grandeur of Balenciaga before, was gone. Gone are the famous guests.
Instead there were oppressively low ceilings, a silence as if everyone were holding their breath, and a long, long runway, like a back street, lined with cream-colored fabric: muscle material. copy for cutting fashion patterns. , and the fashion equivalent of the blank page.
On it, Demna put out a collection of Just Clothes – which actually means, he said in a preview, he gave himself up – set to a track set by his husband, Loïk Gomez (professional name). career is BFRND) composing. Gomez wrote the song when he was 12, Demna said, and played it on their first date.
Then, Demna challenged people to judge him on his strength as a designer.
According to Demna, in the depths of the brand’s crisis and his own despair, he returned home to Switzerland with a trouser rack and started cutting them off, as he did when he was a child. “Sewing is my therapy,” he says, so that’s where he starts: with tailored everyday wear, all made from reconfigured pants.
There are styles of trousers such as jackets, pants that are open to the air vents and waistbands that turn into hemlines; long pants jacket, pants leg turns into a back flap; six pairs of trousers (at least) pressed together into a swinging skirt style reminiscent of Balenciaga’s sack dress from the 1950s. Pants overlap one layer on top of the other, so this one flows from two side like a train. If it’s very reminiscent of Margiela (Margiela is a major influencer and former owner of Demna’s), it’s also newly polished.
Then there’s a section of leather, stretch fabric and twill, inflated from the inside into extreme curves and tortoiseshell shapes using technology commonly used to protect motorcyclists and skiers from damage. collision, which can be a new way to focus on silhouettes but also seems to be a metaphor too good to resist.
Followed by a piece of fine florals in silk and pleated leather, long sleeves that almost touch the floor, shoulders rounded into a light, slightly stretched and fixed shrug. And finally, a modern, high-neck, long-sleeve evening gown that sparkles with silver, lace, and beaded trim, like wearable skyscrapers.
It is elegant. Adult. Repent. But was it enough to arouse new desires?
Demna says bluntly that he started designing the collection six months ago – that is, before the scandal broke. Meaning he has always planned to drop the collection back to first principles. Imagine how well-received this show would be if the controversy never happened; if it has been revealed from his perch as the high-toothed man in the industry.
People would probably rent their clothes in ecstasy for its purity; praised the radical nature of denial (honestly, I could have done it). Instead, with all that happened, it felt more like a parade of penitents.
Other than those small shoulders and the fact that there are no rubber masks or sneakers (and really no branding at all), the clothing is nothing particularly revolutionary. Demna, as he’s demonstrated in the past, has a deep understanding of the concept—that’s how he transformed the original Balenciaga, breaking down the boundaries between streetwear (which people really do). wear) and haute couture, permanently changing the value hierarchy — but this didn’t meaningfully advance those ideas by reiterating them discreetly.
Most of us don’t really know who made our clothes; we see them on the shelf or in our feed, we like them and if we can afford them we will buy them. But when you enter the haute couture field, when you become a famous designer (even a Met Gala attendee). in a full body mask), especially at a heritage home with a revered history of its own, who you are and what you stand for is part of the value proposition. It’s an invitation to join the community. It’s about identity. It’s about desire. Maybe it’s about forgiveness.
But it’s never really just about the clothes.