Creativity Is the New Luxury at Balenciaga


PARIS — The Balenciaga invitation arrived with a QR code which activated two hours before showtime on Sunday. It was a voicemail from Demna in which he recited a manifesto. Key point: if luxury is defined by rareness, then creativity, which is also rare, must be a new form of luxury. Hard not to think of that when we walked into the show venue, a massive tent at Les Invalides, to be seated under a ceiling of blue sky, with sunshine casting shadow across walls panelled with concrete. It was just an electronic illusion, of course, but, for one magic moment, spirits soared, after two weeks of constant rain and lowering skies in Milan and Paris. Is that the power of AI? The concrete panels subsequently yielded during the show to visions of glorious fields, mountains and streams, which transitioned to the neon frenzy of a city by night, a frantic hellscape of TikTokers, a bleached-out forest of pixels, and, finally, a blizzard of static. An overload of content. All life gone.

Demna is drawn to dystopia. His designs elevate a grab-bag of what’s left after nothing. “Fashion on the edge,” he called it during a preview which was such a fluid, articulate performance it was more the art of the preview.  “If it’s not on the edge, it’s a scam.” And yet he was in an exceptionally good mood. Over the past year, he’s managed to purge toxicity from his life. The pre-fall show in Los Angeles in December was a ray of light for him after the relentless threat of cancellation following the accusations of the previous year. LA was a parade of Balenciaga’s greatest bits, all linear, no lateral, but it clicked Demna back into gear, and allowed him to have a lot of fun with his latest.

Balenciaga Autumn/Winter 2024
Balenciaga Autumn/Winter 2024

He loves the old upside down and started the show with the traditional finale of evening wear. A hand-embroidered gown featured a hipline built out with shoulder pads. “Hip-aulettes,” he called them. “What’s good taste or bad taste?” he wondered, before deciding there’s no such thing and sending a full-length faux fur coat with matching skirt down the runway. They’d been treated with resin to give them an aged, not particularly appealing look. That’s one of Demna’s most winning traits. He doesn’t really care if something looks “good,” which frees him up to make things look “interesting.” Like the dress composed of three shirts stacked one on top of the other, with the sleeves knotted round the waist. Or his update of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s “La Vareuse,” flipping a pair of jeans upside down so that the crotch became the collar, and the legs became the sleeves.  Demna’s personal favourite was a long dress made up of four t-shirts laid vertically and stitched together. It was ingenious upcycling but it was also typically perverse in its combination of t-shirt messages. True, the irony of Demna’s ideas occasionally touches on mockery.

Much less bamboozling was the fluid, structureless tailoring in viscose – jacket, pants, shirt and tie. “It’s a difficult thing to modernise,” Demna said. “But I want to see people under 30 wearing a suit.” The shoe he suggested as an accessory was Wicked-Witch-pointy. It also folded so it could fit in your pocket if necessary.  Balenciaga covers all bases.

Balenciaga Autumn/Winter 2024
Balenciaga Autumn/Winter 2024
Balenciaga Autumn/Winter 2024

The models chewed gum and had tattoos and rings through their noses, when they weren’t Isabeli Fontana, Maggie Rizer, Esther Cañadas and Tasha Tilberg, supermodels on the comeback trail. They wore dresses collaged from bras, hoodies and knapsacks, or outfits tightly sellotaped to the body. Demna hates hats but he offered the new Balenciaga beanie, which pulled all the way down over the eyes,“to protect yourself from an avalanche of content.” The star of the accessories was something he called a “bag with attitude,” a huge, Birkin-like thing. “Balenciaga has no logo,” Demna explained. “It’s a word with many letters that I cannot fit on a bag. So I have to put an attitude into it to make it identifiable.” There was also a face-wrapping visor, quite fabulous bar the slightly impaired vision, and already locked up in pre-orders.

Which begged the question: how do people actually feel about Balenciaga now? There has certainly been no diminution in the creativity or the ironic wit. There’s still the odd frisson that comes from someone being allowed to get away with all this under the august name of fashion’s greatest designer, paid for by a huge fashion conglomerate to boot. And yet I’m kind of wondering, what more can Demna do to win back the love? Is he wondering too? It’s that blizzard of static that stayed with me.

Balenciaga Autumn/Winter 2024



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