PFW AW22: Balenciaga

WHAT had intended to be a Balenciaga collection focused on climate change became a defiant message for all those in Ukraine, “a dedication to fearlessness, to resistance, and to the victory of love and peace”.

Just days before the show was to take place, Russia sent missiles to Ukraine, declaring war on the independent nation. Demna, naturally, considered cancelling the show.

I am sure that most of us have questioned the purpose of fashion during times of global crisis. At the time of writing, over 1 million Ukrainian citizens have fled the country as a new Iron Curtain penetrates.

The world has been abruptly and viciously transformed in a matter of days.

But, for someone like Demna, who at the age of 10 fled Georgia with his family during the country’s violent civil war to then find refuge in Ukraine, it is his voice we should be listening to now more than ever. “I became a forever refugee”, the show notes read.

His Balenciaga AW22 show, therefore, was undoubtedly this season’s most authentic and heartfelt rendition of the present.

Despite the giant snow globe setting initially created as climate commentary on how snow will one day become a luxury experienced only in man made settings, the harsh winds and terrain developed into a completely new and emotive metaphor when looking at it through a war torn lens.

Opened with Demna reciting a Ukrainan poem by Oleksandr Oles and accompanied by a soundtrack by BFRND, which was split into three parts in a potential symbolic gesture to the three decades that Demna has lived as a refugee, and the conclusion was heart wrenching.

“I realised that cancelling this show would mean giving in, surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years,” Demna said.

The clothing itself was all about silhouette. Demna’s grasp of the archive of Cristobal Balenciaga is increasingly evident with each collection, and his AW22 show was no different.

Models decorated in thigh high boots tottering over the ice, black asymmetric dresses blowing in the arctic wind, hybrid hoodies clinging to the bodies for a shred of warmth, and rigid bodysuits covered in flowers at points and Balenciaga sellotape on others.

Watching the clothes in these conditions was an impressive display of Demna’s hold on reality, in which his clothes are yearned to be worn no matter the weather. Seeing the models fight through the snowstorm was terrifyingly immersive, with each gust sending an equal chill through our screens.

Since the show, many have questioned whether the rubbish bag handbags models held in the collection were a last minute addition in a sobering analysis of the refugee experience, or whether this is another of his ironic creations, set to become meme royalty.

When considered against the arrival of Kim Kardashian covered in the same Balenciaga tape seen on the runway, however, the boundaries of who and what is fashionable in the 21st century are further blurred. We shall just have to wait to see whether the bag in question becomes commercialised.

This element of disposability to the collection is interesting regardless, for within its showcase encompasses the unique ability to challenge the bourgeoisie codes of luxury fashion and recontextualise the every day into an art form. This is where Demna’s strengths lay.

With an inclusive mindset, Demna manifests the beauty in the strangest of objects, loving them into fashion reality for the unsuspecting upmarket to devour. “It’s no longer the image of a rich lady walking in an expensive area. It breaks that”, he told Vogue.

The leather jackets, made from Balenciaga’s new mycelium faux leather, are a welcomed addition to the collection, another nod to the environmental roots of his inspiration, as well as a signifier that Demna is doing everything he can within the position he holds.

It seems the mushroom-derived leather is picking up speed since its arrival to the market late last year, and it is unsurprising that Balenciaga is tapping into its power early on.

With all of this said, the most impactful within the collection were unequivocally the two finale looks, one full yellow tracksuit, the other a blue gown, the two unmistakable colours of the Ukranian flag. This is Demna’s most political, poignant and powerful contribution to date.

by Lily Rimmer


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