Fear is not a frequent companion to fashion week, except the kind you’ll find when attending shows in the middle of a global pandemic. But fear quickened the pulse at Balenciaga Fall/Winter 2020, when the lights came up in the theater at La Cité du Cinéma to reveal Demna Gvasalia’s high priestesses (and priests) of doom. The sky above was overcast. A storm was coming. Illuminated by jaw-dropping ceiling projections, the looks that led the show were black and threatening. Violins in swooning minor chords made the whole thing feel like the crescendo of a horror film. The victim? All of humanity.
As the show progressed, so did the scenery on the ceiling. There were churning oceans, a swarm of crows (incidentally, a gathering of crows is called a “murder”), and finally Earth as seen from space, slowly eclipsed by blackness. Event horizon. The apocalypse is nigh. In some ways, the spectacle of the set distracted from the clothes, but the “end is near” message was found in them, too. With rapidly melting ice caps, blazing continents, scary viruses, and unhinged politicians confronting us on the news every day, one had to wonder: are these the clothes you wear to Earth’s funeral? Or is Gvsalia simply trying to provoke us? He’s good at that.
Fanatical behavior was explored in the collection. Pathological denial of science-backed evidence that the climate has changed for the worst joined with the lionizing of big business and supported by reality-defying leaders whose greed has proven to be bottomless are all responsible for delivering humanity to the brink of existence. Gvasalia riffed on the cults of sports, religion, and obsession through the use of football jerseys, austere clerical robes, and dresses that were fully covered with shoes, gloves, and leggings that were all part of the gown.
The spectacle of the set distracted from the clothes, but the “end is near” message was found in them, too.
One model, whether intentionally or not (it was hard to tell), walked the runway with ‘AirPods’ jammed firmly in his ears. What was he listening to? His world was insular. Groupthink, insularity, and fanatical devotion to bad ideas are contributing factors to the blind eye we’ve all turned to our world’s decay. “It’s not my problem.”
There were also a lot of suits in the show, and they were all good. Some were rigorously molded to the body. According to the show notes: “Silhouettes defy convention, accentuating a garment’s technical construction, the body of its wearer, and the space between the two.” Balenciaga achieved this by erasing the space completely. Others had protruding pagoda shoulders that jutted high up to the ears. There are a lot of big shoulders at the FW20 shows, but most of them were wide. These were tall.
A hellscape emerged at the finale, with a sky lit on fire. Looks took on a more bourgeoisie quality. Maybe these folks had the good sense (read: money) to wait out the apocalypse. Such heavy-handed social commentary would fall flat if Balenciaga wasn’t intent on sustainability and inclusivity. As part of Kering’s Fashion Pact, they are, and they’re doing better by the world all the time. Still, it’s hard to define the line between justice and commerce, but the topic is certainly worth debating.