It’s tough being one of the hottest acts in French fashion. A major creative reputation like Nicolas Ghesquière’s comes with constant, near impossible pressure to one-up your own best work in front of an audience who’s practically betting on disappointment. Yet Ghesquière has remained remarkably steady, and the Balenciaga collection he delivered Thursday was another nimble negotiation between his own futuristic pursuits and reverence to the name on the door.
The past and the future are familiar ideas at Ghesquière’s Balenciaga, each so distinct they could easily set up a cartoonish trap. In fact, they almost did with the opening series of square suits that were beyond boxy and bulky. Intriguingly constructed from fur and stiff, padded fabrics, the jackets sprouted “wings,” an archival trick that could be worn in back or front. But Ghesquière quickly rebalanced with an extraordinary, highly engineered knitwear range — sleek, molded shifts and tunics belted over precise cropped pants — in stripes and color blocks so bright and striking they glowed like the gridded, underlit glass floor beneath the models’ feet.
Ghesquière said the floor, installed specially for the show, was inspired by the set of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which contrasted a spacey motif against classic gilded grandeur like that of the Crillon.
Keep in mind that 2001 was close to a decade ago, and Kubrick’s now 40-year-old vision of what fashion would look like at that moment proved a quantum leap. Such imaginative outer limits clearly tempt Ghesquière, but when he applied his retro-future ideals to what people actually wear today, as in neat sweaters and mini skirts, padded and laser-cut, and perforated silk dresses, some of the collection’s most exciting moments emerged.
And with those reality-based needs addressed, there was room for experimentation, such as architectural jackets, the requisite wild shoes (powdery green and blue croc loafers with angular Formica and resin heels), and a Pop Art finale: winged dresses made of a spongy, three-dimensional web of puffs, and jumpsuits worn unzipped were emblazoned with multifont slogans pulled from art exhibitions — Cindy Sherman’s, among others. It was fun, if more gimmicky than in past collections. But as he said the day before the show, “We have pre-collection, shoes, handbags and perfume. The more business they make, the more we make the show the brain of the brand.”