“I told my shrink that she should come and see the show because, for me, it would open doors to a lot of unanswered questions,” said Demna Gvasalia. After looking “the elephant in the room” in the face last season by going back to his designer roots and “to the [Martin] Margiela approach,” this season he had his homeland Georgia on his mind.
“Family and war,” said the designer, who had recently returned to his childhood home that was bombed out during the Georgian Civil War. Through the collection, he wanted to embark on some storytelling, he said, to face his fears “and painful moments that I never [processed] postwar in the Nineties.”
The “normal” clothes with gigantic proportions were based on the hoodies he wore as a kid, hand-me-downs from his cousins. His 80-year-old grandmother, who lost her hearing for weeks following the bombing, “and the immense amounts of shoulder pads she still uses,” were also an inspiration.
“It’s a very different way of working for me as I always did shows that were mainly about clothes,” continued Gvasalia after the show, adding that the collection practically wrote itself — “going back to Georgia all the time.”
To model the looks, he brought more than almost 40 people from Georgia — kids who reminded him of himself when he first came to Europe, each embodying “a certain naïveté and the voice that they feel they don’t have in their own country.”
Hence the designer’s use of slogans, which he described as symbolizing “a voice for youth in repressed political regimes where they can’t demonstrate, they can’t say what they think, there’s no real freedom; I lived through that.” They included one that Gvasalia said was one of the most offensive expressions in the Russian language. (Natalia Vodianova, who attended the show, didn’t seem bothered.)
Anoraks were based on reworked flags from all the countries that influenced him in his youth, including the Ukraine, Turkey and the U.S.
It all contributed to a more personal expression of Eastern European youth, even if the elephant was still in the room, from the opening tattoo top to using dinner tables for the runway (here set up under a motorway bridge in a gritty part of Paris, with techno blaring).
As the designer’s 10th show — Chardonnay was served at the preshow bar; Lebkuchenherzen iced gingerbread hearts served as the show invitation — the collection, with its mix of street, normcore, techno-goth and punk — including spiky Reeboks — also read like his greatest hits, with the familiar oversized jackets, pleated starburst floral dresses, fringed East European-peasant scarf looks, hoodies and reworked denim.
There were moments of light relief, such as on the women’s shoes with heels made from stacked coins or upside-down Eiffel Towers, and the gingham-tablecloth skirts.
But the menacing, fascist undertones left a stronger impression, with Gvasalia using black fetishist-style masks to symbolize the “erasing of identity” that he endured. It was pretty scary to see in the current global climate, but helped hit home the message in this autobiographical, therapeutic, #MeToo moment.