PFW SS20: Balenciaga

VERY recently the news broke that, in a highly gutsy move, Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia was leaving Vetements, the brand that propelled him to fashion stardom, to concentrate on his efforts at Balenciaga, the brand where he is now creative director. What exactly such a monumental decision entails for the former label remains to be seen. For Balenciaga, however, the result was this spring summer collection, which was bold, ingenious and extremely current.

Situated in a circular conference arena bathed in the shade of European Union blue, the show held an uncanny resemblance to a parliamentary assembly. And indeed, the first looks were almost a practice in political uniform. Revolving around an army of delegates of Gvasalia’s imagination, the looks featured the designer’s oft-repeated directional and subversive take on power suiting. Sharply-cut, boxy at the shoulders, and uber-cool, the suits and sheath dresses worn by Gvasalia’s fictional legislators were matched with square-toed shoes, as well as lanyards and earrings bearing the Balenciaga logo (this time recreated to resemble the Mastercard logo).

If it seemed like Gvasalia was intimating at some sort of political statement, the rest of the show quickly worked to erase that idea. Next came a bounty of looks that were a distillation of the designer’s best work. Cocktail dresses of loud graphics and colours that slinked and enveloped the body. Materials printed with chains, striking florals and tabloid prints. The stiletto sock boots that cemented Gvasalia’s leading status as the designer, this time in slick leather. Kitschy accessories like their Ville bag, fashioned to look like Hello Kitty. Outerwear and parkas so pouffed that it seemed to make the wearer’s head float. And lots and lots of logomania.

What was also very obvious was Gvasalia’s familiarity with the current-day Balenciaga client. For example, he offered his streetwear-inclined customers new fodder by way of stylishly-cut denim jackets and sporty bombers. For his wealthier, older audience, he rehashed the styles of rich 1980s tycoons, epitomised best by a square-shouldered, wide-lapelled coat of white fur dappled in black spots. Very modern-day Cruella de Vil.

The final few looks of the collection was perhaps Gvasalia’s personal homage to the man who built the house that he now heads, Cristobal Balenciaga. Voluminous and highly structural gowns of rippling chiffon and luxe velvets graced the runway, strongly reminiscent of the architectural constructions that the original Balenciaga was known for. There were bouncy frocks made of a brilliant metallic fabric and finished with a gigantic bow in the back, while others were devised to mimic blown-up tents hovering off the ground.

The collection as a whole felt very relevant to the now, perhaps because of its setting, a reminder of the imminent fiasco of Brexit, and also the fact that models wore facial prosthetics that mimicked the hyper-edited barbie doll faces seen on Instagram. What sort of comment was Gvasalia making? While other designers chose to champion causes that has garnered general agreement and wide support, such as the need to be environmentally sustainable, he has instead raised ideas that are possibly far more polemical. That ultimately takes guts, which Gvasalia undeniably possesses.

by Kay Ean Leong 

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