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Balenciaga's Summer 2023 Runway Featured Mud, Fake Babies and Kanye 'Ye' West

Stilettos cut through the mudslide of a catwalk, while funky new silhouettes trail the streetwear looks we know and love.
Kanye opens Balenciaga Spring 2023 in a hefty security jacket.

Kanye opens Balenciaga Spring 2023 in a hefty security jacket.

I'm enchanted by the mud-rimmed clothes, witch-like shoes and darkness of Balenciaga's Spring 2023 runway that reflects our current moment in time. Merging fashion and apocalypse, the collection not only speaks to both personal identity and streetwear's influence on style, but also to our epoch of war. A muddy moonscape. A wasteland, minefield or battleground. Ugly fields of raw materials far out from the glamour of a wealthy city. The feel of springtime streets in Eastern Europe, where Georgian creative director Demna was born. 

To open the show, Kanye "Ye" West stormed down the runway in a hefty leather "Security" jacket. (Perhaps it wasn't all that surprising to see West at the Balenciaga show: He and Demna have proven to be quite the dominant fashion power couple, combining their powerhouse imaginations to bring collaborations to retailers like Gap.) Taking inspiration from the enforcement uniform, which Demna has done before, the oversized garment came covered in pockets and holsters. As West stomped through the mud, synth sounds and heavy 808s created an aura of tension and danger.

According to the show notes, Spring 2023 is about stepping outside of boxes and labels imposed by both society and the internet. It's about courageously forming your own identity and appreciating the visual art of fashion. "Individualism in fashion is downgraded to the pseudotrends dictated by a post in stories of some celebrity at the moment," per Demna's show notes. 

The show's set was muddy and puddly, unavoidably staining the clothes and shoes showcased while giving some models a hard time walking. It even had a stench of decomposition, according to Vogue. "The set of this show is a metaphor for digging for truth and being down to earth," Demna said. "Let us let everyone be anyone and make love not war."

The mud of the runway made it unavoidable for any shoes and clothes to remain untouched.

The mud of the runway made it unavoidable for any shoes and clothes to remain untouched.

This coming spring, the Balenciaga customer is a wayfarer and survivor of the mud. They're someone who walks in unsexy stilettos through a dark, apocalyptic valley, like they're fearless or otherwise just have somewhere to be. 

Models on the Spring 2023 runway looked like they'd been through a ringer: Bruised faces and bloodied noses worked in tandem with the desolate and muddy landscape. It's almost certain that Georgia-born Demna's show is influenced by the feeling of his home country, which he fled as a child and where many Russians are now fleeing to in order to escape war and mobilization.

Throughout his work at Balenciaga, Demna pays special attention the face, especially as a bodily location of authenticity. In 2020, his models were sculpted by prosthetics, as if political caricatures of cartoons of plastic surgery. In 2021, he explored the "parallel world" of gaming and avatars for the face. The pandemic seemed to inspire his play with masks: In Resort 2022, the infamous Hacker Project with Gucci, faces were shrouded in black veils or silver chains, while Spring 2022 saw a mask on the closing monochromatic look. For Resort 2023, latex headpieces engulfed models in a BDSM-esque runway show at the New York Stock Exchange.

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Doja Cat attends Balenciaga Spring 2023 with a bruised cat eye, matching some looks that came down the runway.

Doja Cat attends Balenciaga Spring 2023 with a bruised cat eye, matching some looks that came down the runway.

Looks for Spring 2023 began with a primarily dark and neutral palette, before opening up to neon pinks, red and sunny yellows. Across the 75 different ensembles, there is play with texture, including in the form of fuzzy, ankle-length squiggly scarves and wide belts drooped around hips.

Very interestingly, Balenciaga sent babies down the Spring 2023 runway. This isn't the first time a designer has featured tiny humans as mini models, but rather than models holding the babies in their arms and showing their faces, these Balenciaga "babies" (they were dolls) flopped faceless in carriers strewn across models' chests.

The show's closing look is a garment made of recycled Balenciaga Lariat bags.

The show's closing look is a garment made of recycled Balenciaga Lariat bags.

We know Balenciaga's bags are all the rage right now (especially the moto-inspired Le Cagole and the curvilinear crush bag), but for Summer 2023, the brand introduced some new ideas by way of teddy bear handbags and baby carriers. Leather arm jackets with a square-topped silhouette also made an interesting addition. The final look was a full-length garment made of recycled Lariat bags.

On the footwear front, there were chunky sneakers, white platform boots and sparkly indigo witch-like shoes with turned-up toes. At least one model wore AirPods down the runway, perhaps alluding to their futuristic and commonplace appearance on the street.

We also saw more of the codes Demna has established during his tenure at Balenciaga: oversized proportions, extended cuts and heavy streetwear influences. This translated to puffer jackets, sagged pants, chunky sneakers, distressed hoodies, unmissable sunglasses and oversized blazers — all of which were well-represented in Summer 2023. Denim on the runway was distressed, but rather than ripped jeans where holes and feather threads protrude at the front, the new styles came ripped at the back.

Demna is a genius at creatively weaving cultural moments with fashion, transforming his fascinations and reaching into the archive of his memory for a runway collection. The Summer 2023 show is a body of work to join the towering heights of canonical fashion.

See the full Balenciaga Summer 2023 collection in the gallery below.

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