In his debut show for Balenciaga, Artistic Director Demna Gvasalia struck the right chord between an homage to the house codes — in this case, crafting clothes that balance the rapport between the body and the garment in an ongoing relationship of the couturier and the client — and developing the roots of a new voice to relate to today's clients' needs. How to place Balenciaga's heritage of couture — of clothing made for a specific woman — in a new context was answered with a mix of couture methodology apparent in the first few looks. Gray and light brown windowpane wool jackets and coats with reinforced, padded A-line waists worn with knee length skirts or pants were juxtaposed with sporty pieces that women wear now, like nylon anoraks and puffy down coats.
The Balenciaga legacy of basques and cocoon shapes came through, though not in a rigid adherence to design structure that would make the clothes seem dated. Rather, it was in the attitude of the wearer: a blue nylon parka zippered to the chest and pulled down off the shoulder revealed a purple crewneck knit underneath, and a black leather biker rested on the shoulder showed a vivid red cotton shirt untucked over a rose wool skirt. A beige trench coat transformed into a v-neck dress when worn over a light gray cashmere sweater — it's how a woman can convert one garment into another by simply altering the way clothes fall on the body. Even a red, puffy down jacket paired with a rhinestone turtleneck, black cigarette ski pants and leather blue heels had a couture attitude in a look that's totally functional.
An oversized cotton shirt became a formal jacket when worn with windowpane-striped wool shorts or a skirt; or it can disappear under a zig-zag cut denim jacket. A series of patchwork floral dresses showed the difference between the flou atelier's soft draping and the tailleur atelier's sharp tailoring of a long-sleeved fitted dress with slight ruffles at the knees. One trench (with added front panels) was cut so loose that it looked less like a rigid coat than it did a flowy dress. Here is a reminder in any case that Balenciaga is a couture house with the equipped craftsmanship skills at work.
The leather platform boots — either thigh-high or falling just above the ankle — in white, blue, black or camel, the sunglasses with long, chain eyeglass straps and the various leather bags and pochettes in dark brown, grey, mustard, or black will be the drivers for the all-important accessories business, the label's bread and butter. The multicolored, strapped leather bags, even a jumbo version, are sure must-haves for fall.
A successful translation of a fashion house's heritage by a new designer is a rare and difficult feat. By assessing the Balenciaga legacy, asking what is relevant now and creating a functional wardrobe rather than one riffed with institutional couture exigencies, Gvasalia achieved his mission the first time out.
Long Nguyen is the co-founder and style director of Flaunt.