When Balenciaga announced Demna Gvasalia – hot off his first year helming the cult label Vetements – as its new Creative Director in 2015, it caused a lot of consternation. Yet, all of the brand’s detractors who sobbed over his openly derivative designs and penchant for gimmick-y excess were swiftly silenced by Balenciaga’s rapid growth and skyrocketing sales. Gvasalia has created one of fashion’s top-performing brands with his strange mix of elevated Spandex streetwear, ugly-on-purpose sneakers, sharp ‘Knife’ heels, and other kitschy collectibles. Slowly and simultaneously, however, something else was developing alongside his collections that was hard to define until this moment.
Gvasalia’s journey from heretic to hero became radiantly clear at Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2019 show. First, the set design was astonishing – a feat of technical engineering that brought a true thrill to the runway. Inside a series of smooth glass tubes, upon which an immersive video installation by the Canadian artist Jon Rafman played out, scenes would flash and fizzle in a technicolor explosion. It was like being on a rollercoaster without ever leaving your seat.
This time around, the collection was streamlined and totally wearable from beginning to end.
Against this futuristic backdrop, Gvasalia displayed his most self-assured collection to date. Balenciaga hasn’t evolved so much as it has been refined, purified into a range of recognizable shapes, silhouettes, and prints. It was all established in the first look: subtle, chic, powerful pinstripe suiting in a now-familiar molded silhouette worn by the kind of woman you didn’t even know you wanted to be until you saw her.
Sharply tailored looks, now a brand cornerstone, continued to mesmerize the audience as the tube lit up with scenes that often complemented the color and tone of the looks on the runway. Unfussy separates, with blouses that featured face-framing collars, were balanced by tight mini dresses in a range of prints – from checkerboard to chains. Gvasalia’s long, generously draped frocks were also on offer, but we preferred his twisted satin versions because they provided a more flattering fit. At the close, Gvasalia reimagined some of Cristobal Balenciaga’s iconic couture shapes as evening dresses that enshrouded the figure with complex draping techniques.
Balenciaga’s previous shows have been rather heavy-handed with layering and accessories (remember the multi-layered jacket look that launched a thousand Joey Tribbiani from Friends memes?). This time around, the collection was streamlined and totally wearable from beginning to end. Perhaps this is because of the absence of Lotta Volkova, Gvasalia’s longtime stylist, and her tendency to pile-on the ugly. It really seems that, on his own, he finally has a clearly defined sense of what Balenciaga should be, and it’s a vision we are 100 percent on board with.