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Balenciaga Just Provides Clothing and Contribution During Paris Fashion Week 2023

PARIS Can you create a self-redeeming story without fundamentally altering who you are?

This was the central query of the Balenciaga autumn 2023 presentation, arguably the most important collection of the entire fashion season, which started on February 10 in New York and ends on March 7 in its entirety.

Naturally, it’s a subject that is frequently asked at this specific time, when the public judges the wrongdoing of our sacred cows, and those who succeed through virality also fail because of it.

As a result, the Balenciaga show was less of a collection and more of a cultural test case. It was essentially the black mirror version of the grand spectacles of social commentary disguised as shows that helped fuel the brand’s meteoric success and $2 billion in annual revenues, and which were conceived by the brand’s sole creative director, Demna; shows about dirt, war, capitalism, and even celebrities (in all its iterations). Except that it was personal this time.

Paris Fashion Week 2023

After Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, opened the October dirt show (a relationship that sparked controversy of its own with Ye’s subsequent White Lives Matter show and slew of anti-Semitic and anti-Black statements), Balenciaga released two marketing campaigns. One showed young children carrying bags resembling teddy bears dressed in bondage attire, and the other showed an office with documents related to a child pornography case buried behind a mountain of paperwork.

Demna and the head of the house, Cédric Charbit, were at the centre of a whirlwind of internet fury, mayhem, and conspiracy theories that developed on their own. The brand’s seemingly relentless ascent came to an abrupt end.

Since then, they have been quietly working to right the wrongs, including one-on-one post-mortems with business insiders and mea culpa about the systemic and decision-making errors that allowed the campaigns to happen, but the show on Sunday was the biggest statement made in public since the uproar.

The event took place in the former Carrousel du Louvre, a generic convention-like space inside the museum that had once, for a brief period, served as the hub of fashion week, before designers decided they didn’t want to share the same plain white spaces, no matter how storied the address, and started trying to one-up each other with national monuments.

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Theatrics and Balenciaga’s previous extravagant framing was absent this season. Celebrity visitors had left.

Instead, there was a narrowly low ceiling, a stillness that seemed like everyone was holding their breath, and a long, long runway that resembled a road back. The runway was lined with cream-coloured toile, the fabric used to create fashion patterns and the equivalent of the blank page in fashion.

Demna provided a selection of Just Clothes for it, which in reality, he claimed in a teaser, meant he provided himself, set to a song written by his spouse, Lok Gomez. According to Demna, Mr Gomez wrote the song when he was 12 years old, and he performed it for her on their first date.

Demna then dared everyone to evaluate him based on his prowess as a designer.

Demna claims that during the height of the brand’s problems and his despondency, he withdrew to his Swiss house and began chopping up racks of pants as he had done as a youngster. He explained that tailoring was his kind of treatment, so that’s where he started: with tailored daywear made entirely of repurposed trousers.

There were pants as jackets, with the fly left open to serve as the vent and the waistbands transformed into hems; pants as trench coats, with the rise of the pants serving as the flap at the back; and at least six pairs of pants, were pressed together to create a sort of swinging tunic dress resembling Balenciaga’s sack dress from the 1950s. One pair of pants was stacked on the other, and the other spilt from the sides like a train. It was highly reminiscent of Margiela, who was a major inspiration and past employer of Demna. It was also freshly polished.

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Then, a section of leathers, puffers, and denim appeared. These materials were inflated from the inside into extreme curves and turtle shapes using technology that is typically used to protect skiers and motorcyclists from collisions. This may have been a novel way to draw attention to the silhouette, but it also struck us as a metaphor too good to pass up.

The next set of clothing had high-end flowers with pleated leather and silk sleeves that almost reached the floor and rounded shoulders with subtle tension. And finally, a collection of glistening, modernist evening gowns with high necklines, long sleeves, and beaded fringe that resemble wearable skyscrapers.

Demna pointedly remarked that he began creating the collection six months ago, i.e., before the issue broke. In other words, he had always intended to start from scratch with the collection. If the incident hadn’t occurred, consider how this show would have been received if it had been announced from his vantage point as the top prognosticator of the business.

Very likely, people would have commended the radical nature of the denial to the highest heaven and rented their clothes in excitement at its purity (honestly, I might have done that). That resembled the march of the penitents more, given everything that had happened.

The clothing was not especially innovative, other than the tiny shoulders and the absence of a latex mask, shoe, or any branding at all. Demna, as he has demonstrated in the past, is capable of great conceptual insights — it’s how he initially transformed Balenciaga, demolishing the barriers between streetwear (the clothing that people wear) and couture, permanently changing the hierarchy of value — but this didn’t meaningfully advance those ideas as much as discretely reiterate them.

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