Balenciaga won the couture sweepstakes again this season with an electrifying show stacked with celebrity models including Kim Kardashian, Nicole Kidman, Dua Lipa and Selling Sunset star Christine Quinn.
Wednesday’s spectacle should solidify Demna’s reputation as a master of high-low cultural curation — and one of the most exciting thinkers and practitioners in fashion today. The show had a knife-to-the-throat intensity heightened by a throbbing symphonic soundtrack, and face-obscuring RoboCop-esque face shields, developed in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz racing engineers.
Yet underneath, there was also a lump-in-the-throat emotional tug. Was it the love poem recited in French as the show got underway? The stirring music, amplified by handbag-shaped boomboxes toted by some models? Or simply the visceral beauty of Demna’s voluptuous tailoring and killer dressmaking?
The VIP arrivals were a show unto itself: Kris Jenner sweeping in behind alien sunglasses, her granddaughter North West in tow; drag star Alexis Stone channeling Jocelyn Wildenstein and dabbing his makeup with a sponge before snapping a selfie with Róisín Murphy; Offset posing for photos with Alton Mason in his bulging clown shoes, and Balenciaga chief executive officer Cédric Charbit telling Tracee Ellis Ross, only half jokingly, to kick the hems of the large finale gowns should they become lodged in the narrow doorway next to her seat.
The opening looks — bodies encased in rubber-looking Neoprene, faces by darkened glass — were terrifying, and also terrifyingly chic, the shoulders built out beautifully on the dresses, one with a train that so resembled an oil slick you almost expected it to stain the white carpet.
Long-sleeved sheath dresses accrued sparkly or shaggy textures, as did jeans trembling with thousands and thousands of dangling jet beads. The workmanship was staggering, with the press notes explaining that a leopard-print coat was composed of 150 kilometers of hand-tufted thread.
The show cycled through Demna obsessions he zhuzhed up in staggering ways: giving a jeans jacket a head-engulfing collar; adding aluminum to oversize T-shirts so they can be crumpled into windswept forms, and pinching his menswear with corseted waists.
In a post-show scrum, the designer said he decided to inject more of himself into his sophomore couture effort, and follow his instincts more. This led him to an “otherworldly futurism” that ultimately yielded to the heritage and opulence of founder Cristóbal Balenciaga. “Beauty in its classic context, let’s say,” he offered.
Historians will surely point to this show for thrusting couture into the Insta-generation. After the show, guests were invited to tour twin Balenciaga Couture Stores where it’s possible to purchase some looks straight from the runway, and other limited-edition products. At the men’s store, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli threw on a crumpled hoodie and checked himself out in the mirror. At the women’s store, Charbit pointed to the most expensive item hanging behind frosted glass: a 100,000-euro coat in a trompe-l’oeil tweed composed of ribbons, beads and sequins. A scented candle in a chrome canister will set a shopper back 350 euros; the boombox, part of a collaboration with Bang & Olufsen, 8,500 euros.
“A lot of people started to ask me after the first couture, ‘How do we buy couture? Who do we call?’ People don’t know, especially from the younger generation of up-and-coming couture customers that we want to establish a dialogue with,” Demna explained. “There are a lot of [garments] with volumes that don’t actually need to be made to measure. It’s more about the technique, the material, how it is assembled.”
The designer also brought Balenciaga couture into the eco age, realizing about a quarter of the collection via upcycling: Trenchcoat belts became an oversize trenchcoat; leather belts a sinuous tube dress, and antique wrist watches offbeat jewelry that keeps on ticking.
In a recent interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Demna likened himself to an osteopath for fashion, working out its blockages. He’s a magician, too.
This story originally ran on WWD.