“A synthesis between the street and the salon.”
That’s how Cédric Charbit, president and chief executive officer of Balenciaga, described what couture by Demna Gvasalia might look like.
On Monday, the Paris fashion house said it would resume making high fashion, some 52 years after the Spanish founder Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his legendary couture house. Gvasalia is to unveil his first couture collection in July on the official Paris calendar.
“We owe this to Cristóbal and the legacy of the house,” Charbit said in an interview a few hours after the surprise announcement on the opening day of the summer 2020 couture shows in Paris.
By that time, Balenciaga sales reps and executives had received telephone calls and about a dozen email inquiries from devoted clients, a signal of healthy curiosity.
“Demna is going to be the first one of his generation doing couture in this week,” Charbit said. “Maybe there’s a new customer out there.”
The development will bring a new name to couture week, and an unexpected one, given Gvasalia’s penchant for creating lust-worthy sneakers, hoodies and bomber jackets both at Balenciaga and at Vetements, the brand he founded with his brother Guram in 2014.
He stepped down from the creative helm of Vetements last September and a statement provided exclusively to WWD hinted at a new project, saying the designer, 38, was stepping down from his position “to pursue new ventures.”
On Monday, Charbit suggested Gvasalia already had couture in mind when he joined Balenciaga in 2015, knowing the founder’s stature as the “couturier’s couturier.”
Christian Dior once famously referred to him as “the master of us all” by Christian Dior while Gabrielle Chanel dubbed him “the only couturier in the truest sense of the word.”
Among the most famous designs of the late Spanish-French couturier, prized for his spare and sculptural designs, are the cocoon coat, bubble skirt, pillbox hat and semi-fit jacket.
“He worked on volumes first and foremost, and not decoration,” Gvasalia told WWD in an exclusive interview last year.
Indeed, in an early collection for Balenciaga, Gvasalia transposed the flaring back of the semi-fit jacket into a black sweatshirt. “What I found at Balenciaga was kind of a gift for me. I found Cristóbal Balenciaga’s approach to volume was so perfectly suitable for me with my personal taste for volume.”
Indeed, while stereotyped by some as a maker of expensive and trendy casual wear, Gvasalia prides himself in being a tailor — and he said last year he intended to flex these muscles more in the future.
“I actually can make a jacket for myself in one day with my own hands,” he said at the time, crediting his Antwerp education for his technical skills and characterizing his four years at Maison Martin Margiela as his master’s degree. “I learned how to work three-dimensionally with garments. That’s what happened there, but tailoring, and the know-how and technical part of dressmaking were always my primary interest actually,” he said. “So far from being a T-shirt and hoodie designer — even though I love those things and I wear them and that’s part of my wardrobe — I know how to make a jacket.”
In a statement on Monday, Gvasalia said “it is my creative and visionary duty to bring couture back.”
Furthermore, he called couture “an unexplored mode of creative freedom and a platform for innovation. It not only offers another spectrum of possibilities in dressmaking, it also brings the modern vision of Balenciaga back to its sources of origin. Couture is above trends. It’s an expression of beauty on the highest aesthetic and qualitative levels.”
Balenciaga will be the first fashion house owned by Kering to reenter the couture fray. Kering also controls Saint Laurent, whose founder staged his last high-fashion show in 2002 upon his retirement.
Hedi Simane, who dabbled in couture-level garments during his tenure at Saint Laurent from 2012 to 2016, has stated ambitions to do couture at Celine, which he joined in 2018 as its new artistic, creative and image director.
Charbit noted the move into couture was possible “due to the success of the creative vision of Demna Gvasalia as well as the exceptional results of Balenciaga these past few years.”
Reporting third-quarter results last October, parent Kering said couture and leather goods recorded a 19.3 percent rise, led by an “excellent” performance from Balenciaga, which the group expects to reach revenues of one billion euros.
On Monday, Charbit noted the house would establish a dedicated team and atelier replicating the original salons at Balenciaga’s historical address at 10 Avenue George V. He declined to say how much Balenciaga is investing to launch couture, but acknowledged couture is a costly, exacting enterprise and often loss-making.
“We will try to break even with it,” he said, stressing the house would approach couture in a “pragmatic” way. According to French fashion’s governing body, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, “only those houses and companies that are approved each year by a dedicated commission run by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and held under the aegis of the Ministry for Industry may become eligible for it.”
Couture houses also must fulfill certain requirements, including employing certain numbers of seamstresses and tailors to realize the painstakingly handmade garments that comprise haute couture, the precursor to ready-to-wear, which arrived in earnest around the time Cristóbal Balenciaga hung up his scissors.
The designer, who died in 1972, continues to fascinate historians, curators, collectors, fashion students and prominent designers. On Sunday, an exhibition opened at the Association Azzedine Alaïa juxtaposing that late couturier’s work with that of Cristóbal Balenciaga. It runs until June 28.