Paris Fashion Week SS17 : Balenciaga’s Religious Experience

Article publié le 22 juin 2016

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Byline : Jessica Michault
Photo : courtesy of Balenciaga

On the rooftop of the catholic school Lycée Saint Louis de Gonzague in Paris, under the watchful eye of God above, designer Demna Gvasalia presented the first ever menswear runway show for the house of Balenciaga.

And it was something of a religious experience, one that paid reverential homage to both Cristobal Balenciaga the man and the designer, while still offering up a new perception of what menswear could be. The blazing heat from the white-hot noon sun also made the audience feel as if they were doing some sort of fashion penance. But the atonement was well worth seeing Gvasalia’s reinterpretation of tailoring through a striking exploration of proportions.

Cristobal himself never designed menswear but when Demna started researching his show, he discovered in the house’s archives a man’s coat that Balenciaga had started for himself but never finished. “It just felt to me that we needed to finish that coat and that is where the silhouette came from,” said the designer backstage after the show.

Balenciaga menswear spring-summer 2017

This resulted in two very strong and diametrically opposite shapes. One was exaggeratedly boxy to the point that the strong-shouldered suit jackets would have a hard time fitting through the framework of a doorway, almost as if the garments were two dimensional in nature (think Max Headroom). The other featured a super slim, second skin construction designed for those with zero body fat. Each style was sculptural in its own way and, in commercial terms, made Balenciaga a brand that could welcome into its fold a myriad of different body types.

Demna also gave a nod to Cristobal’s resolute devotion to his catholic faith — the founder was famous for going to church on a daily basis. This aspect of his life was touched on in some of the textile choices. Ecclesiastical fabrics from the same supplier as the Vatican provide the show’s papal purple and red silks pieces as well as a golden scarf won by the final model, closely mimicking those donned by priests at the pulpit.

Balenciaga menswear spring-summer 2017

Even with all the structured and refined tailoring in this show the line up still felt relevant to today’s youth. The addition of a few Balenciaga-branded baseball caps, cropped bomber jackets and outsized leather tote bags in Ikea shades of blue and yellow as well as some platform footwear, which that fell in line with something Rick Owens might do, all had a youthful vivacity.

But it was the casting that really did the trick in terms of making the collection relatable. By using an assortment of slim models with short hair cuts and a slightly “street” mien, the designer injected a cool kid dissonant tension to his garments. “We wanted to relate to this real kind of guy,” said the designer. “It was important to create this sort of duality in the casting with these clothes that had this ambition to be polished and to be sophisticated.”

Devoted fans of Demna’s work have been rewarded for their faith with a collection that was both sharply executed and visually striking. Amen.

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