Demna Gvasalia’s debut collection for Balenciaga is a mix between Vetements' masculine street style aesthetic and Cristobal’s iconic warped shapes and form.
It goes without saying that Balenciaga’s Fall/Winter 2016 show was the most anticipated presentation of Paris Fashion Week. With the doyen of derisive, streetwise fashion Demna Gvasalia newly installed at the helm of the Balenciaga ship, all eyes were on his optic-white runway today to see if his work rose to expectations or sank to insult. White-hot whiz kids like Gvasalia and his predecessor Alexander Wang have huge burdens to shoulder when it comes to advancing the aesthetic of a brand that has been around (off and on) since 1919. There are too many paths to choose from. Gvasalia could hew to the work established by Wang (risky), or remake the brand in his own image (riskier), or revive the spirit of house founder Cristobal Balenciaga for the modern-day consumer (riskiest). The crowd with the hottest ticket at Paris Fashion Week filed into the show, murmuring the same speculations.
For most, Gvasalia seemed to come out of nowhere. When his appointment at Balenciaga was announced, a majority of the industry responded with “Who?” and promptly dispensed “10 Things You Need to Know About the New Head of Balenciaga” features so that their readers could catch up. Those closer to street fashion happenings in Paris knew of Vetements, the brand that Gvasalia oversaw along with a team of collaborators. Gvasalia himself had the right pedigree, having come from stints at Martin Margiela and Louis Vuitton, but it was the collaborative effort of his team and its easy-to-wear, irreverent threads that really caught shoppers’ attention. You don’t need to know that Gvasalia’s design ethic was deemed promising by those he worked with at Margiela in order to see the instant desirability of Vetements’ floral smocked dresses, slogan hoodies, and MA-1 bombers.
Gvasalia’s first collection for Balenciaga landed on a smart synthesis between his established Vetements-esque masculine street style aesthetic and Cristobal’s iconic dispensation of warped shapes and form.
Gvasalia might just be the puzzle piece that completes the incomplete jigsaw that is Balenciaga ever since Nicolas Ghesquière left in 2012. In our opinion, Wang wasn’t the right guy for the job. Save for the marble-washed first collection he did for the brand, his further collections took things in a direction that was far from the Balenciaga DNA, and the customer knew it too. Gvasalia, however, understands structure, silhouette manipulation, and proportion, much like house founder Cristobal. The two also share a love of upsetting the status quo. Cristobal refused to bend to the press and was constantly at odds with the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne. Gvasalia is a gentler soul, but his work speaks to his desire to disrupt and confound.
For Fall/Winter 2016, Gvasalia’s first collection for Balenciaga landed on a smart synthesis between his established Vetements-esque masculine street style aesthetic and Cristobal’s iconic dispensation of warped shapes and form. This was felt from the first outfit to (almost) the last, although the balance between the two aesthetics added up differently on each look. At Vetements, Gvasalia experimented with suiting for Fall/Winter 2016, and clearly he still had suits on his mind for his work at Balenciaga. The show opened with one that was finished with padded hips – an echo to Balenciaga’s 1938 collection bearing the same exaggerated proportions. Amplified flanks continued for a few more looks, done on simple checked suiting paired with relaxed midi-length pleated skirts or stirrup trousers. The inverse was then experimented with as Gvasalia turned his attention to the proportionality of the neckline. Where hips tented out from the body of his skirts, he mirrored the same image in open-neck jackets with jutting collars that framed the face and shoulders. This technique appeared several times throughout the show on sporty primary-colored jackets, varsity jackets, shearling-trimmed leather bombers, and sophisticated trench coats. Long, mannish button-ups with ticking stripes played a supporting role as well, appearing solo on top or paired beneath Gvasalia’s creative assortment of outerwear.
There are moments of inspiration, especially when Demna Gvasalia’s voice and Cristobal’s combine in chorus.
As the show progressed, volumes ballooned – proffering very Cristobal characteristics. There were double-wide, quadruple-breasted trench/dress hybrids, drop-shoulder knit sweaters, and eye-popping series of collaged floral dresses paired with candy-cane tights. The best look, and the one Gvasalia probably should have closed with, came in the form of prismatic silver sequins arranged in floral sequences on a black backdrop – the negative space of the backdrop made the surface appear to be cracked glass from a distance. It was a cool effect, and one that is still making the rounds on Instagram as we speak. But it was quickly back down to earth after all of the blooming volumes and zany blossoms as he ended the show with a sensible series of plaid, leather, and fur slim-cut coats, which, after the immense proportions shown on his runway, looked rather out of place.
The fashion industry is obsessed with novelty, and few things are more novel than an obscure, independent designer landing a humongous position at one of the most storied maisons in the world. Gvasalia had a tremendous role to fill at Balenciaga, and he eagerly took on the challenge. There are moments of inspiration, especially when his voice and Cristobal’s combine in chorus, but it seems that there are still a few kinks in the system that need to be ironed out before we declare him a genius.