Demna has put his unmistakable mark on Balenciaga since he took over the house in 2015. But he's arguably never put as much of himself into his Paris Fashion Week presentations for the brand as he did this season.
At Balenciaga's Fall 2022 runway show on Sunday, guests were greeted by an oversized two-toned T-shirt bearing the colors of the Ukrainian flag and a letter written by the mononymous designer, the full text of which is below.
"The war in Ukraine has triggered the pain of a past trauma I have carried in me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my home country and I became a forever refugee. Forever, because that's something that stays in you. The fear, the desperation, the realization that no one wants you. But I also realized what really matters in life, the most important things, like life itself and human love and compassion.
This is why working on this show this week was so incredibly hard for me. Because in a time like this, fashion loses its relevance and its actual right to exist. Fashion week feels like some kind of an absurdity. I thought for a moment about cancelling the show that I and my team worked hard on and were all looking forward to. But then I realized that cancelling this show would mean giving in, surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years. I decided that I can no longer sacrifice parts of me to that senseless, heartless war of ego.
This show needs to explanation. It is a dedication to fearlessness, to resistance, and to the victory of love and peace."
Demna was born in Georgia, but fled with his family during the civil war in the early 1990s; they spent time in Ukraine before eventually ending up in Germany. He has reflected on the conflict in his native country and its aftermath in his work before — namely, in Vetements' Spring 2019 collection. Amid the developments of the past few weeks in Ukraine, the way Balenciaga's Fall 2022 collection explores this idea of resilience feels that much more sobering.
The Kering-owned brand staged its latest debut within a self-contained winter landscape — a sort of snow globe runway, which saw the models brace the elements in their stretch dresses and catsuits, turtlenecks and trousers, caped sleeves and slick oversized jackets. Originally, the set was meant to be a commentary on climate change, he told British Vogue backstage: "Maybe in 50 years, people will have to go to these places to have an artificial experience of a certain weather condition that we take for granted. But it turned into something else, which often happens with my shows, somehow."
Balenciaga was one of the first major luxury brands to respond to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, dedicating its social media profiles to sharing resources and partnering with the World Food Programme to provide food assistance to those displaced by the Russian invasion. The brand's Fall 2022 show opened with Demna reading a poem by Ukrainian writer Oleksandr Oles, in Ukrainian.
"It's only innocent people who die in war. I've experienced that and actually blocked it out for 30 years, until I started reading the news last week," he told British Vogue. "It brought all this pain back, like anyone who has gone through that. The message is love, always. And fashion has to assume that, at least in terms of taking a position on it."
The Fall 2022 palette is mostly restrained, opening with primarily black, grey and brown before introducing a touch of white, some strong florals (another signature of Demna's Balenciaga) and other eye-catching prints (see: the branded packing tape catsuit previewed by Kim Kardashian in the front row). However, the most poignant use of color came in the closing looks: a yellow Balenciaga tracksuit, followed by a blue long-sleeved gown with a train.
See the full Balenciaga Fall 2022 collection in the gallery, below.