The most anticipated debut of Paris Fashion Week took place in a box of padded sound stage in the 15th Arrondissement inside Canal +’s former studio. Guests trooped down a staircase covered in industrial gray carpet against the soundtrack of air raid sirens, to see Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian designer of Vetements, unveil his first Balenciaga for fall 2016 collection.
As we all know, Vetements has a very distinct street look, iconized by its oversized hoodies. So how would Gvasalia approach Balenciaga, a house known for the architectural but ladylike cocoon coats of its founder, Cristobal, and still supported in no small part by the recognizable shapes of Nicolas Ghesquière’s era? This changing of hands at a global, historic brand like Balenciaga is a big deal, and a hush of expectation settled over the crowd.
“How do you persuade a woman to wear a two-piece suit who is not the German Chancellor?” asked Demna Gvasalia, who has spent the last six months looking into the Balenciaga archive and methodically thinking through how the essence of Cristobal Balenciaga can be relevant for a modern woman. “I started by making list of garments, which is what we do at Vetements. Like the shirt, the coat, the trench coat, the aviator, the floral dress, the sweater. Then we drape — I never do sketches,” said Gvasalia. “And then we ask ourselves or friend who would like to wear it? We asked Eliza, the girl with the glasses, who closed the Vatemants show, to open Balenciaga. And she said, Oh a business suit! I like this!, ” Gvasalia continued.
So the collection was presented, as per the show notes, “a new chapter…a reimagining of the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga — a wardrobe of absolute contemporaneity and realism imbued with the attitude of his haute couture.” As a result, the first look was a gray flannel two-button jacket and a slit pencil skirt, in which the shoulders are slightly curved and set fractionally forward, and the hips minimally padded. The couture silhouettes for which Balenciaga is known for— cocoon shapes, gentle sloped backs, skirts that stand away from the body — were reinterpreted in sportswear garments like windbreakers and puffers that open up away from the collar bone.
“Cristóbal was about the tailoring. I wanted a new way of finding that elegance for today, in a 360-degree way. And it was the posture and the attitude, and Cristóbal’s way of working with the body I found interesting,” said Gvasalia, while admitting to nerves in the buildup to his debut. Opera coats became puffa jackets and trenches, the collars spread to frame the clavicle, shoulders dropped and pulled into peaks at back. Button-down shirts, denim jackets and pea coats were cut on the slant and curved into the shape of a chrysalis, and suits in houndstooth and tweed had the hips triangulated out and up, like a false front, in an echo of the classic couture silhouette. With the mix between couture and street fashion, the collection is like a couture for cool kids. By assessing the Balenciaga legacy, asking what is relevant now and creating a functional wardrobe, Gvasalia achieved his mission the first time out and wrested Balenciaga into 2016.