Did Demna re-set Balenciaga?
A clean white space devoid of décor except the canvas clad walls marked Balenciaga’s blank slate catwalk on Sunday during Paris fashion week. The show, despite its pared back surroundings, was held in the majestic halls of the Louvre. For all the talk of a brand re-set, Demna, Balenciaga’s artistic director, chose to forego the theatrics of grand scale show production to focus on what matters: the clothes.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes after multiple backlashes for an ill thought-out campaign and subsequently for stoically withholding a genuine mea culpa until the bitter end, Balenciaga had little choice this season but to dial back to the brand’s raison d’être.
CEO Cedric Charbit in December was a signatory on the brand’s belated apology, admitting to “a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility.” The list of actions the company has undertaken are led largely behind the scenes for internal operational improvement.
Would there be a visible sign of any changes at the brand’s first show since then?
Demna in his show notes explained “fashion has become a kind of entertainment, but often that part overshadows the essence of it.”
Returning to the essence meant garment construction and deconstruction, all part of the process of making and sewing clothes.
Categorically, trousers were the starting point. They were cut, panelled and layered, like an extra appendage, flapping under oversized coats and jackets. A bomber and leather jacket worn three sizes up had a familiar thrift shop allure, with fabric the point of elevation. Demna’s East European tropes are engrained in his silhouette, they are as much a legacy to him as the skinny cut is to Hedi Slimane.
Floral dresses and a tight eveningwear edit of floor length gowns had a shoulder shaped like Cristobal Balenciaga’s hand would have cut them. They iterated Demna’s terrific haute couture debut for Fall 2022.
Aside from a futuristic biker boot, the collection was devoid of sneakers and logos. Accessories were notably tamed, and focused on jewellery, bags and sunglasses, like the wraparound alien-esque shades now synonymous with the brand.
Without any catwalk gimmicks, is Balenciaga still Balenciaga?
Kering’s sales were boosted by the brand’s high profile hook ups with Crocs and a host of recognisable re-edits from DHL tops and corporate logo-ed streetwear to Ikea-inspired leather bags. It was the ultimate ugly sneaker, the Triple S, which brought Kering a neverending stream of revenue. Without the logo hoodies, without a face-covered Kim Kardashian and without any novel fashion direction, a pared-down Balenciaga will be under pressure to achieve growth, if not like for like sales.
And for all the oversized jackets and bulky shoulders that Balenciaga has been showing for years, how many repeat customers are in the market for these?
Still, Demna is a once in a generation designer who doesn’t need to be fatally guillotined for a brand error, and has shown he can move on. A foundational re-set can have the same effect on customers as a grand production and theme. The evidence will be visible if the clothes speak for themselves.