PFW AW14: Balenciaga

Balenciaga has to be one of the most fascinating houses in fashion. Cristobal Balenciaga himself was hailed, even by rival designers, as one of the greatest couturiers that ever lived and his designs are held up as the epitome of grace, elegance and class. Spanish-born Balenciaga held his first runway show in 1937 which was celebrated by the press as a “revolution” and during World War II customers and journalists alike risked life and limb to view his clothes.

It wasn’t until after the war though he showed the full extent of his ingenuity and did the unthinkable – he did away with the waist. For hundreds of years women’s fashion had centered on the waist and the hourglass figure but Balenciaga’s “balloon” coat and tunic dresses were the first to say clearly that the waist was not the be all and end all of a woman’s figure. Thus he gave birth to the concept of forms and lines and how pieces should sit on or around the body rather than trying to manipulate it.

Balenciaga was famously defiant of the fashion system and in 1957 he announced that he would be revealing his collection only one day before the clothes went on sale, rather than the standard four weeks, due to fears over copying. He also had numerous disagreements with the “bourgeoisie” Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and as such was never actually granted Haute Couture status.
It is fitting then that such an enfant terrible of a designer would leave a house that attracted the most unconventional talents. Following the departure of Nicolas Ghesquiere there was much speculation as to who would be capable of filling such shoes. When it comes to Balenciaga there is an almost mythological power that seems to place the house above simply having “bad” shows or “good” shows. Shows are “intellectual”, “challenging”, “groundbreaking” or “remarkable”. Things that might have seemed dull elsewhere are exceptional when presented under the magical quality of the Balenciaga name.
And so there was a huge amount of pressure on the 29-year-old Alexander Wang when he was announced as the company’s new Creative Director. What could this young New Yorker bring to the most esteemed French house of all time? Well, it seems, quite a lot.
Die-hard fans of the original Balenciaga lines will have been thrilled to see a collection that went straight back to the spirit, wit and intelligence of Cristobal himself. Apparently Wang was only able to start working on the collection a mere eight weeks ago but from the opening look one could instantly feel that he was a perfect choice. The meticulously cut coat which opened the show shaped itself so wonderfully around the model’s body that Wang’s flair for tailoring was immediately obvious. His clever use of fabric, cuts and shapes created a fresh and exciting collection. Contemporary yet timeless with playful surprises thrown in such as a black tops which appeared relatively tame from the front but at the back parted to reveal a cracked marble effect underneath and what appeared to be a metal brassiere.
Wang’s experiments with fabrics and prints were truly exciting and hinted to a great deal of talent that is sure to reveal itself in the coming seasons at the house – no doubt even more so when he has been able to have the full amount of time usually allotted to creating a collection. The big question of course is, what would Cristobal himself have thought? The collection took a lot of creative licence with the house’s signature motifs and there was rather a lot of “waist” present in the show but Cristobal, like any genius was full of contradictions and loved a good rebellion. So chances are he would have given a quiet, not too indulgent, nod of satisfaction and, who knows, maybe even a slight smile.
by Nicola Kavanagh
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