“Raise your glass to the hard-working people,” Joan Baez sang many years ago. Demna Gvasalia had working people on his mind when designing his Balenciaga collection — and when he showed it on the runway on Sunday morning. The collection, his program notes read, “reimagines dressing for work: power dressing, no matter what one does as a job.”
To make his point, his highly diverse casting included people from various careers and educational tract, even if, unlike Joan’s salt-of-the-earth types, Gvasalia’s lineup swung mostly white collar (mechanical engineer, private equity associate, law student), and often creative (architect, gallerist, stylist, violinist). And yes model, unless the girl in that crushed velvet getup that was a teeny dress in front and bicycle shorts in back is just a ringer for Bella Hadid. Many in the show were his friends.
They walked an interesting, four-tier elliptical convention-like set Gvasalia has installed at the La Cité du Cinéma movie studios, everything covered in velvet — mile-high floor-to-ceiling curtains, carpet, hundreds of chairs spiraling upward. Done in EU blue, the space felt imposing, inviting and ceremonial all at once; one could imagine it as the site of some major conferencing.
In fact, there was a great deal going on in Gvasalia’s spherical domain, and some in the audience saw U.S. political satire: power dresses — Ivanka; diva outerwear — Melania; hyper puffed-up parkas — the bloviating Donald Trump.
Gvasalia would acknowledged no such subplot (although he did mention that he’d studied the style of an unlikely icon, Angela Merkel). Instead, in a postshow conversation, he said his message was about uniform dressing. “It’s like fashion as uniform to me,” he offered. “Like, I try to imagine and to kind of create this aesthetic uniform.”
Only there was little uniformity to the huge range of compelling, often bold ideas he offered for women and men, from polished tailoring to workwear to ballgowns. Then again, if by “uniform” he meant the highly specific Balenciaga identity he’s been developing since his arrival, it was there in droves — in elevated streetwear, which he said is neither dead nor a trend, but is now just a part of fashion; in the flaunting and manipulation of logos, and especially in volume, big, bigger, biggest. He started with plain suits on women and men in proportions opened to two interpretations –– fashion or frump. Not so the short, precision-cut boss lady dresses and skirt suits with shoulders out to there — only they don’t have to be. Gvasalia created the line with corsetry boning that’s removable, allowing the shoulder to fall into what one imagines would be a softly draped arc.
To that end, between his own affinity for outsized shapes and the legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Gvasalia wants to own and keep pushing, “as far as it can go in terms of volume experimentation: he said. “This is what I feel my mission is about at Balenciaga, to continue experimenting with volume.”
And not just by day. Gvasalia showed several enormous ballgowns, their skirts immovable over huge, bell-shaped crinolines. They looked — and seem to float — like animated Disney princesses, but were instead inspired by an early Cristóbal reference based on a Spanish painting. Yet loose the crinolines, and the skirts fall into what he called “an A-line neo-Gothic dress. I wanted to make something new of it,” Gvasalia said. Consider it done, in one of the most interesting, newsiest collections of the season.