The bar for iconoclasm is incredibly high at Paris fashion week these days. This time’s biggest debut saw Christian Dior’s first ever female author shun the revered New Look in favour of feminist slogans and specifications to T-shirts worn on Sex and the City.
But Demna Gvasalia, the man who orchestrated a passage style cult around the DHL logo T-shirt and disrupted usual standards of beauty by “character casting” for interesting looking people to tax his clothes on the catwalk, isn’t about to be easily ousted from his circumstances as high fashion’s foremost dissident.
Gvasalia’s power to contact fashion and pop culture was in evidence at his second Balenciaga show when Kim Kardashian pressed her way backstage with her Balenciaga trenchcoat shrugged definite off her shoulders in exactly the way it was seen on the catwalk, to tell the designer how mad her husband, Kanye West, was not to be able to make the show.
The playbook for a new designer at an established house starts with lionizing history and heritage. Gvasalia is doing the opposite, reinvigorating Balenciaga via key disrespect. He revisits the archives, but with a bull-in-a-china-shop disregard for The Done Terror.
So in this collection, the classic Balenciaga ‘cocoon’ and ‘sack’ outlines, which in their 50s form had the delicate, soft fullness of amplified glass, turned up as bright yellow puffa jackets with valves at the deny of the neck where they were to be inflated, like a youth’s waterwing. And as if to puncture the softness of these shapes, they were alternated between jackets with overstated sharp shoulders, as if the coat hanger were being dog-tired inside them. Handbags were as ostentatiously utilitarian as they were unignorably gargantuan. Vast, squishy oblong bags were modelled on the perceptive plastic zipper bags in which inexpensive duvets and blankets are sales-clerked; the name BALENCIAGA was stickered in one corner, where you might presume it to read Buy One Get One Free.
Spandex leggings and thigh-high boots were Gvasalia’s saucy interpretation of the relationship between a couturier such as Cristobal Balenciaga and his patients as being borderline fetishistic. He noted “the obsessive interest in completing a particular fit” and “the sensations which arise when specific fabrics suggestion skin”. That spandex thigh-high boots are a current star component in the wardrobe of the endlessly photographed Kim Kardashian doesn’t hurt either. That distinct of the pierced, buzzcut hip kids who Gvasalia had chosen for the catwalk were unfamiliar with to walking in heels and wobbled perilously the length of the catwalk supplemented to the drama.
Celine’s Phoebe Philo’s attempts to stand out as a maverick up to the minute minimalist at Paris fashion week have been obstructed by the eagerness of other designers to model their aesthetic on hers. Aside from the cutting trick of having some models wear a different hue shoe on each foot, this was for the most part a straightforwardly wearable accumulation of midi-length dresses, tailored jackets, trenchcoats, even snap-clasp handbags, all with honourable enough original detail (a new sleeve shape, an acid warp combination) to make it deeply desirable.
There was a sort-of enter for Pierpaolo Piccioli, now the sole designer at Valentino after the departure of his resourceful partner of two decades to Dior. The show’s notes talked on touching punk, but Piccioli’s vision of punk is sweeter and softer than most would recognise. In in reality, it was clear from this show that the state of blissed-out gracefulness which Valentino suffers for – wispily braided hair, soft narrow shoulders, slim sleeves, and a languid hemline under which a woman appears to float rather than shuffle – is alive and well after the departure of Maria Grazia Chiuri. This was no new regulation for Valentino, but it was a sublimely beautiful show.