2nd October 2023 – (Paris) Balenciaga has courted controversy yet again with a Spring 2024 collection featuring deliberately provocative and meme-worthy designs. This comes on the heels of last year’s scandal involving accusations of promoting child abuse imagery.
Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, showcased a deeply personal collection during the luxury label’s recent runway show in Paris. Straying from conventional norms, Gvasalia presented a lineup of reconstructed trench coats, oversized bomber jackets, and floor-sweeping floral gowns. The models chosen for the show were carefully selected from Gvasalia’s entourage, adding an eclectic and diverse flair to the presentation.
The show began with a striking entrance as Gvasalia’s own mother took the stage, striding down a long runway adorned with draped red velvet curtains. She confidently wore a roomy trench coat, featuring a captivating contrast of navy blue and black, accentuated by a cloth belt cinched tightly at the waist. The setting resembled a grand stage, setting the tone for an extraordinary display.
In a unique twist, Gvasalia directed the show’s soundtrack to shift the focus onto the construction process itself. Acclaimed actress Isabelle Huppert provided the voiceover, reading instructions on how to create a tailored jacket. Gvasalia aimed to highlight the intricacies of garment creation, emphasizing the importance and artistry behind each piece. As Huppert’s voice accelerated throughout the show, the intention was to convey the intensity of the process rather than evoke anger.
Gvasalia’s innovative approach involved reimagining traditional styles, resulting in coats that appeared to be draped over the shoulders with additional sleeves hanging down. He even transformed a clutch bag into a pointy-toed shoe, pushing boundaries and challenging conventional fashion norms. Rejecting the notion of a perfect, polished world, Gvasalia expressed his belief that fashion should not be solely focused on projecting wealth, success, or power.
The cast of models for Balenciaga’s show included a diverse range of individuals, such as a fashion professor, artists, students, a public relations executive, and Cathy Horyn, the fashion critic from online fashion magazine The Cut. This deliberate selection highlighted Gvasalia’s commitment to inclusivity and representation.
The show reached its dramatic conclusion with the appearance of the designer’s husband, Loik Gomez, known as BFRND, who closed the runway in a wedding dress.
Meanwhile, the new collection seems to defiantly double down on Balenciaga’s signature outrageous aesthetic, despite creative director Demna Gvasalia previously pledging a “reset” to focus purely on fashion after the brand’s reputational battering.
Fashion pundits have derided the risqué new collection as attention-seeking and repetitive of past designs. It remains to be seen whether Balenciaga can attract customers back and revive its credibility in the luxury space.
Déjà Vu on the Catwalk
“I hate being this person, but the collection feels a bit repetitive – just like many commented,” wrote influencer Hanan Besovic of ideservecouture in his initial review.
Indeed, multiple looks appear strikingly similar to those in Demna’s debut Fall/Winter 2016 show. The opener with oversized glasses is practically identical to 2016’s first look. A red puffer coat ensemble also mirrors a past Balenciaga couture piece in bright yellow.
Critics highlighted the recurring low-cut necklines, open coats and reworked handbags as evidence of a creative director bereft of new ideas and relying on his back catalogue.
Beach Towel Couture?
Equally conspicuous was the appearance of models wearing oversized towel wraps around their waists.
“In a few days, there’ll be articles asking who’ll pay £700 for a Balenciaga towel,” Besovic predicted. Highsnobiety was quicker off the mark, dubbing it “beach towel couture” in their scathing review.
Such gimmicks seem deliberately designed to create headlines and internet meme mockery. But after last year’s scandals, Balenciaga’s appetite for controversy appears undimmed.
Playing It Safe?
Some analysts view the repetition as Balenciaga playing it safe, shunning boundary-pushing designs to focus on established house codes and silhouettes.
Certainly, taboo-breaking motifs like the BDSM bears have disappeared, along with the dystopian theatrics of recent shows.
In their place is a more conventionally slick, commercial collection but the absence of diversity among models has already drawn criticism – an issue Balenciaga was similarly lambasted for after Demna’s first show in 2015. The difference being the clothes themselves no longer feel fresh or directional. While Demna has removed the more alienating elements, he is struggling to inspire with what remains, raising questions about his creative vision post-scandal.
The Big Question
The acid test will be whether luxury consumers feel compelled by this collection to return to a brand whose name became toxic overnight. With other houses like Gucci and Saint Laurent producing more daring and fashion-forward designs, Balenciaga’s edge appears blunted.
The house may be playing it safe, but when your USP is outrageousness, safety risks banality. However beautiful the tailoring, it takes more than heritage to sell £700 designer towels today.
If Balenciaga is serious about resetting its image, the evidence suggests bolder reinvention is required – not rehashed provocations. For now, the core question remains unanswered: who exactly is still willing to pay couture prices for Balenciaga’s towels?