Balenciaga Fall/Winter 2019

by Long Nguyen

With thousands of brands stretching across the entire globe, there is even more variety in the fashion designers at the head of these brands. Some of these designers worked to make their collections relevant to the younger generation by adopting the signs and signage from popular culture (aka streetwear) and evolved their brand’s ethos to mirror the fast changing taste. Designers working for high profile brands very often have to take into account their brand’s heritage and stylistic DNA codes to portray such recognizable house signatures.

Embodying that very task, designer Demna Gvasalia pondered how to make the house’s heritage of creating odd and modernistic silhouettes as way to relate the clothes to the body. This can be shown in the broadening of the shoulder and by removing the waist of a dress to manipulate how the clothes contoured around the wearer’s curves and edges. The question is, what is a ‘real Parisian’ – not the Parisian from some imaginative magazine shoot but real Parisians today- wearing on a daily basis?  In this season’s stellar show for Balenciaga, Gvasalia focused on how “the patterns and shapes emblemize the daily activities – grocery shopping, commuting via motorbike, and going out after work,” he provided the clothes for each of those occasions: Green shirt, jeans and brown shopping bags for the supermarket, black leather, sleeveless green nylon vest and jeans for the bike rides and perhaps a long light pink dress for going out after work.

After several seasons at the forefront of shaping street culture – the big ugly sneakers, the logo baseball cap, the logo anorak, sweatshirts and tee-shirts of course- Demna Gavsalia abandoned all the ingredients that has previously given Balenciaga the meteoric rise in the culture’s discourses as well as a firmer business footing to return to the house’s heritage. She has done so by posing questions about the construction of the clothes themselves and how to arrive at different solutions if a usual construction was altered in some manner (like shifting the shoulder upward in a mustard wool coat or reinventing the cocoon figure in today’s materials as nylon down coats or as a brown wraparound belted shearling coat).  Tailoring took center stage from pantsuits to coats ranging from rigid to loose structures inclusive of all ages and genders.

The show began with a black tailored single breasted wool suit worn with a black blouse, and the shapes of the jackets and coats began to shift as shoulders were raised and broadened under the asphalt floor and strobe lighting overhead.  The very linear Balenciaga DNA is reflected in the series of floor length gabardine coats, or black and white gingham wool, or camel cashmere coats with exaggerated shoulders. Several of the wool coats had multiple pleats in the front and the back to allow the volume to extend on the sides, yet still maintaining a sharp linear drop forward.  The hooded red coat or a black and white puffer coat with collar extending over the head provided the armor cloth to shield the person nearly entirely from the external world, a new form of cocooning that paid homage to the founder’s monastic and anonymous ethos. In the 109 looks show, there was not one sneaker in sight- just leather square toe shoes and high boots.

It’s much less about the acumen to anticipate and foresee the changing of taste and desire.  It’s much less about the ability to create and follow trends because that may be good for short-term business.  The final series of velvet tee-blouse like a light green version with black pants or a dark blue with crystal beading dress with circular metallic neckline that seemed to lift the stretch velvet away and up from the body as an exercise of pure fashion with an experiment to construct a new garment where the yoke and the sleeves rested on the rigid circular mold around the front and back necklines.  

There is a clear and strong sense of where things are and where the future is in this Balenciaga show that also boded for plenty of ideas that would spawn a lot of merchandises at retail.  These are the kinds of clothes that would resonate far beyond the Parisian women and men of all ages. And in a world full of loud techno music noises and random flashing white and yellow lights (aka a dangerous world, perhaps), these garments may also offer some warmth and comfort as well.

Photos courtesy of Balenciaga