Balenciaga’s (Long-Anticipated) Return to Couture Is a Love Letter to Its Founder

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We’ve got to admit it: the Fall 2021 Couture Week schedule came as a bit of a happy shock. There it was, written in bold, a name we hadn’t seen on the couture calendar for 53 long years – Balenciaga. Unveiled in the maison‘s original salon on 10 Avenue Georges V, the Balenciaga Fall 2021 couture show was one for the history books. Not only did it mark the storied French maison‘s return to couture for the first time since the closing of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s atelier in 1968, but it was also Balenciaga’s 50th couture show in history.

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture
Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga

Demna Gvasalia – quite triumphantly – designed his first-ever couture collection for Balenciaga, paying homage to the founder of the brand. Staged in an intimate setting – which was an (almost) exact replica of Balenciaga’s original studio – models trotted sans music, journeying us to the couture setting of the bygone era. The glitzy guest list included supermodel Bella HadidSalma Hayek, and Kanye West, as well as Ella Emhoff‘ (Kamala Harris‘s stepdaughter), who stunned with her couture runway debut at the show.

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture
Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga

In true Balenciaga fashion, Gvasalia put up a daring show of sculptural silhouettes, exaggerated forms, and floor-sweeping trousers, finished to perfection with extravagant embroideries and meticulous detailing with feathers. In yet another nod to the Spanish founder, the show began with all-black looks, and gradually took a bold turn into a vibrant alley of poppy fuchsia, turquoise, green, and yellow.

What began with sophisticated, tailored monochromatic looks quickly transitioned into a clever play of volume and structure. Exaggerated shoulders, sleeves, and even overdramatic padded stoles were sent down the runway. Many of the looks were accessories with avant garde face-covering black hats. These oversized, dome-shaped hats were designed by Philip Treacy, influenced by Cristóbal Balenciaga’s wide-brimmed hats from the 1940s and 50s.

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture
Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga

Gvasalia also found a unique way to honor the brand’s founder as he led Balenciaga into the enchanting world of couture after a long hiatus. The initials ‘C.B.’ were delicately hand-embroidered onto little details like silk ties, poplin shirts, and leather gloves, which harkened back to Balenciaga’s personal style. Gvasalia also chose plush fresco, mohair, cashmere, and barathea wools (which the founder used to wear), made in collaboration with the late designer’s preferred tailor, Huntsman.

For those of us who’ve taken a deep dive into the history of fashion, it was thrilling to witness the collection oozing with references to the brand’s iconic designs. The remarkable floral-embroidered gown from the collection was inspired by an archival piece initially made for Jacqueline Kennedy, while the opera gloves and parkas bore an undeniable reference to Cristóbal Balenciaga’s couture creations. 

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture
Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga

In true couture tradition, Gvasalia ended his show with bridal looks. The first of the two bridal ensembles was a hybrid outfit – a floral-embroidered silk jacquard dress on the front, and an elegant trouser at the back. The second and final look from the Balenciaga Fall 2021 couture collection – which featured a train and a full veil – is a modern take on one of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s last designs, presented 54 years ago.

Crowned as the greatest couturier of all time, Cristóbal Balenciaga closed the doors of his atelier in 1968, leaving the couture world with an enormous void. Fifty-four years later, Gvasalia’s debut couture collection for Balenciaga comes as a ray of hope that historic design codes can be respected through and through. Gvasalia’s entrance into the couture world was a triumphant one.

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture
Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga
Balenciaga’s (Long-Anticipated) Return to Couture Is a Love Letter to Its Founder
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