“Welcome to the bathroom,” Balenciaga communications director Lionel Vermeil deadpanned to a guest arriving for the house’s show at the Hôtel de Crillon. He referred to the clinical white tiles covering the rooms’ floors and benches, the graphic expanse in counterpoint to, yet in synergy with, the majesty of the surrounding old-world decor.
Creating synergy with the past, respecting it, and ultimately transforming it into something ultramodern and compelling is what Nicholas Ghesquière does best. For fall, the Balenciaga designer was at his brilliant best.
In fact, the tiles were inspired not by the biggest, shiniest, most happily antiseptic bathroom you’ve ever seen but by Jean Pierre Raynaud’s Container Zéro installation. Yet those expecting a treatise on graphic austerity were wrong. Ghesquière showed, if not a gentler side, exactly, then a more obviously relaxed one (read: eased-up silhouettes) that sacrificed not a bit of his signature bravado. He called it “a game of perspectives and scale.” In the opening series, that meant multiple visual fields in a fusion of high chic: vests and jackets knitted from thick tubes of fake leather over sweaters made from wool strips on synthetic tulle, these in turn over dresses, their skirts draped fluidly in front. They came in audacious nature prints on which tree-hugging lizards romped among the flora. There were also languid tunic dresses in linear blocks of color over skinny pants. (Would that the photographers had been afforded back shots, the better to capture their intricate constructions.)
Ghesquière took his newfound ease into separates — skirts bordered in deep bands of fake leather worn with sturdy, no-nonsense ski sweaters. He also decorated tops and skirts with stiff flat chains — a look more artistic than tough — for what he called “a jewelry story.”
Throughout, he made a number of very specific archival references: round-shoulder coats, which he faced with bright blue and violet; sculptural vests with big spherical buttons, and tunics covered in scalelike paillettes. “When you see the core of the work, [Cristobal Balenciaga] is always fascinated by the same subject, working it over and over,” Ghesquière said. “I am fascinated by the radical nature.” Fascinated, but never intimated. And for fall, fabulous.