Demna Gvasalia is no stranger to creating viral moments – since his arrival at Balenciaga four years ago, he’s been a master at crafting (sometimes divisive) statements, be it his hyper-exaggerated shoulders, “ugly” shoes and of course, the wonderfully witty ad campaigns (take a peek over on the brand’s Instagram page).
You’ll probably have seen the unearthly set at his latest Balenciaga show – a darkened amphitheatre, where attendees descended into (hell?) their seats, only to find that the first three rows of seats were submerged in water, while hellish imagery of flames and other apocalyptic tropes flashed directly above on a digital screen as the show proceeded. It made for a great, magnetic spectacle, drawing inexorably on the audience to force them to confront the white elephant in the room – the ongoing climate crisis, a problem of mankind’s own invention and one that the fashion industry, as THE avatar for consumerism, is a significant contributor to.
But onto the clothes – austere, covered-up ensembles rendered all in black were the order of the day, forming more than a third of this 100-look collection. They called to mind of priestly attire – and small wonder, with Gvasalia stating that this collection “re-contextualises the structures inherently associated with desire, inverting the values of certain dress codes” in the press release.
One could get into the metaphysics of religion and forbidden desires but this isn’t the space for that. The house of Balenciaga does have some ties to religion – founder Cristobal Balenciaga was often inspired by the church and according to fashion critic Cathy Horyn, some of his earliest designs were commissioned by the Spanish aristocracy to wear to mass.
Perhaps some of the most intriguing looks were the closing pieces that Gvasalia termed as “gala dresses” – where the gloves, leggings, gown and shoes are apparently all “one piece.” It’s an idea similar to what he has done before – the infamous “Pantashoes” that first appeared in the S/S’17 collection that was both leggings and boots simultaneously – though it’s taken to the next level here. “Bodywear becomes a second skin, at once obscuring and revealing”, reads the press release.
Fashion as armour against the apocalypse? It’s a recurring idea in the industry – and yes, this superbly staged show probably relayed the direness of climate change at a more visceral level than reams of scientific research on the topic. Though one has to ask the big questions – is a brand really committed to doing its part for the cause (whichever they’re claiming to support) beyond the theatrics of the runway? Also, how does one go to the loo in gown/shoes/gloves/leggings all-in-one contraption?