Last Sunday, the 34-year-old designer Demna Gvasalia made his official Balenciaga debut – generally acknowledged as the most anticipated show of the autumn/winter 2016 season. This was seen by many as Balenciaga’s return to form. And it was certainly a return to the avant-garde.
After just three collections of Vetements, he was hired last fall as the artistic director of Balenciaga, one of the most celebrated names in fashion, synonymous with rigorous technique and architectural shapes. His appointment was something of a surprise to the industry, yet it made a lot of sense.
After all, his path to Balenciaga began when he started asking the question Cristóbal Balenciaga had wrestled with his entire life: What do women want to wear?
The founder, Cristobal Balenciaga, was an irascible innovator who loathed the press and considered his hand-made haute couture clothing art. When approached to licence his name to ready-to-wear – the arena the label currently operates in, to the tune of a turnover exceeding £270m per annum – Monsieur Balenciaga declared he would not prostitute himself. After a fitful series of revival attempts under various designers in the mid-Nineties, the label was handed to Nicolas Ghesquière, who catapulted it once again to worldwide prominence – for 15 consecutive years. Seen by many as a contemporary counterpart to Cristobal in terms of influence and innovation, Ghesquière left Balenciaga in 2012. He now designs acclaimed collections for Louis Vuitton.
The Spaniard catered to the upper crust; the Georgian embraces youthful subcultures and the underground.
What Gvasalia (who grew up along the Black Sea in the former Soviet republic of Georgia) did, however, was to marry his pragmatism with Balenciaga’s patrician refinement and create something singular. It had a whiff of Vetements, sure; but also a dose of Balenciaga, in silhouettes tugged from Horst pictures and an excellence of materials and construction. “For me it wasn’t so much about clothes,” said Gvasalia. “It was about finding out about Cristobal Balenciaga’s method of designing, of making clothes. This method for me was more a reference, rather than certain garments, or known shapes.”
Once obscure, now the talk of Paris… Sounds so familiar..