It was the most anticipated show of this Paris fashion week. Sunday March 5, Balenciaga presented its collection, two and a half months after the scandal that made it falter. The brand of the Kering group, which, in 2022, was one of the coolest and prescriptive labels of the moment, went through a storm of rare magnitude in December after launching two advertising campaigns. The first featured children surrounded by objects including a teddy bear in a leather harness; in the second, which showed businesswomen in their offices, an excerpt from a judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States on child pornography was part of the decor.
The brand and its artistic director, Demna (Gvasalia, who now calls himself by his first name), have been accused of child pornography, and social networks have given the criticism – very violent – an unprecedented scale, several employees having even received death threats. Loyal Balenciaga stars like Kim Kardashian have distanced themselves, and financial analysts have predicted a lasting drop in sales.
After a chaotic management of the crisis, at the end of December, Balenciaga ended up apologizing, citing an awkwardness for the campaign with the children and an unfortunate coincidence concerning the documents of the decoration which they had not taken care to study in The detail. On its Instagram account, the brand has deleted all the content published until then, as the symbol of a reset.
Demna’s return to the media scene was carefully orchestrated. First with a long interview in the form of a mea culpa in vogue at the beginning of February. Then, the week of the show, the designer, who does not often speak, spent several days receiving journalists (including those from World), one by one, to present them with a sample of the collection. “I was naive enough to think that I didn’t need to explain my work. In December, I realized that, without explanation, it was subject to interpretation. And that I was seen as a cynic when that was never my intention.” he defends himself.
He concedes that he loves “questioning, playing with codes, showing things that are not very comfortable”, like during the September 2022 show, where the models, walking in the mud, sometimes wore dirty or worn-looking clothes or luxury bags in the shape of packets of chips. He admits that the sheer size of the sets, whether it’s the 275 cubic meters of mud or the parade in a fake snow storm in February 2022, took the focus away from the clothes. “It didn’t suit me because what matters to me, what I’ve been working on for six months, is the armhole of a jacket, the darts of trousers. »
A dormant stock of black pants cut and reassembled
This collection of redemption is therefore centered on the cut and modeling. This time, no logo, no trompe-l’oeil, no diversion of popular objects, but in-depth tailoring. Demna started from dormant stocks of black pants that he cut up, reassembled, transformed into jackets, skirts, (new) pants. The idea may seem conceptual, but the result is both wearable and elegant, with the detail of a pocket or a trouser seam at the bottom of an impeccably cut black blazer. Blue chinos were used to design a little dress that rounded out the back, reminiscent of Cristobal Balenciaga’s “sack dress” of 1957.
He also reinterpreted the round shoulders that the founder of the brand was fond of through pleated floral dresses in leather or velvet, sometimes embroidered with crystals and sequins. References to the archives are precisely dosed with the Demna touch: these dresses are majestic, but also very covering, with sleeves that extend to the knee, and very structured (the head seems almost tucked into the shoulders). Finally there are these biker leather jackets inflated with air, protective and rigid like shells, which transform the silhouette.
The public scrutinized this remarkable collection with all the more attention as the decor lent itself to it: Demna presented it in an empty and white room of the Carrousel du Louvre where most of the fashion shows were held until the 2000s. , when the presentation of clothing was not yet cannibalized by monumental decorations. No stars in the front row, no photographer to immortalize them, and a serious, even heavy, atmosphere before the show begins. In order to avoid crowds, Kering had only communicated the location to its guests the evening before, and had posted hosts with no distinctive sign to guide them through the shopping aisles of the Carrousel. At the end of the show, Demna did not come to greet.
The show went off without a hitch, and the collection is an undeniable formal success: will that be enough to turn the page? For professionals in the sector sensitive to Demna’s qualities as a designer, no doubt. For the general public, the answer is less obvious: one controversy chases another, but the labels remain stuck for a long time. We can assume that time will do its job, and, for his part, Demna seems ready to do his: “Provocation can no longer be part of my thinking, but that’s not a regret. There are other ways to be creative. I want to do less, but better. »