Balenciaga RTW Summer 2023

Demna's mud show proposed a grittier view on luxury.

Demna’s latest effort for Balenciaga, like it or not, will stick with you, like the soil on all the show guests’ shoes after they had picked their way around the sloppy, earthen hole in the ground that served as his monumental and very fragrant runway set.

The “mud show” was already viral before it happened because of the clever invitation: a lost wallet, complete with realistic ID, credit cards, coins and even a rumpled grocery receipt.

It reached another zenith when Kanye West stormed out in the first look, a hulking nylon parka on his back and a luxury mouthguard shielding his teeth, and it held one’s attention until the last models exited in their mud-soaked jeans and wackadoodle crystal-paved clogs.

For fashion professionals, there was so much to unpack after one of the gutsiest, mind-bending fashion spectacles of the season.

For starters, Demna declared in a letter placed on each seat that he no longer wishes to explain his collections. Bravo. The veteran fashion critic Suzy Menkes told WWD in a 2020 profile that she laments the rise of the backstage interview with the designer, which colors reviews too much and diminishes the writer’s own perspective.

Yet his letter revealed much, headlined by his views on what luxury should and shouldn’t be. “Putting luxury into the box of polished, exclusive and visually expensive is limited, and pretty old school,” it said.

Backstage, wearing a weathered and intentionally soiled black hoodie, its chest logo repaired with electrical tape, he elaborated further.

“What is luxury? Is it like a cashmere turtleneck? Or can it be anything?” he asked rhetorically, noting that it’s more difficult to make a hoodie look decayed than keeping it clean.

“We have a whole department now that ages and makes things dirty,” he said, arguing that something can be luxurious because of the time and effort it takes to abrade it, or simply because of the idea behind it.

Demna’s ideas arrived thick and fast through the mud: Meaty, oversize leather jackets, light-colored ones deliberately stained; loose jeans with the shreds on the back; velour hoodies with matching tap shorts; all the way through intricately knotted jersey gowns. The king of supersized silhouettes also tried his hand at shrunken looks, including teeny puffers, parkas and bombers.

The accessories were offbeat but captivating: a leather tote bag suspended from a shoulder-length leather glove; sunglasses that really make the wearer look like an insect, and clutches resembling empty potato chip bags.

Perhaps the must unexpected accessory were the baby carriers, worn by men with facial piercings, fierce bomber jackets, shredded jeans and ballet slippers. That’s how Demna wants to stretch the idea of how a dad can look. (The babies inside weren’t real, by the way.)

In a surprising self-critique, he allowed that the collection was “very me in terms of references, looks and silhouettes,” noting that the only nods to founder Cristobal Balenciaga were his puffy leather bags shaped like a muff.

Looking back, the brouhaha earlier this year over Balenciaga’s rotten, “extra destroyed” sneakers, retailing for $1,850, foreshadowed the mud collection, and Demna’s unblinking, alternative gaze on the luxury fashion system.

“It’s blasphemous to put a 1,000 euro shoe into a mud hole, but that makes it real,” he said.