Cristóbal Balenciaga was one of the masters of haute couture with an unmatched technique in pattern making and cutting. He pioneered novel shapes never seen before in women’s fashion and was much admired by his contemporaries. Even Christian Dior once remarked: “Haute Couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.”
It is a legacy with much to live up to in Balenciaga’s first return to haute couture in 53 years under current artistic director Demna (he recently dropped his surname, Gvasalia).
Balenciaga’s blank slate
Like a tabula rasa, Balenciaga wiped its Instagram feed in the run-up to the show, as if to remove every noise and thread out of place to distract from the significance of the collection, a show twice postponed during the pandemic.
There has been a notable gap in the haute couture calendar for two seasons resulting in expectations reaching fever pitch for the hottest ticket in town. That show was today, culminating in 63 looks that opened with a black single-breasted suit with trompe-l’œil shirt cuffs and closed with a long train wedding dress in ivory silk wool.
Of course, the suit and gown were nothing of the ready-to-wear variety, it was craftsmanship in its purest form. In a statement Demna said “couture is above trends, fashion and industrial dressmaking. It is a timeless and pure expression of craft and the architecture of silhouette that gives a wearer the strongest notion of elegance and sophistication”.
The boldness of Cristóbal’s architectural shapes have always been a backdrop to Demna’s designs, but none so as evident as in this couture debut. The voluminous cuts of the tailoring, the shape of a skirt suit’s swingback jacket, even the radical sack dress that originally debuted in 1957 found its way back in Demna’s propositions in proportion.
Details such as onyx buttons on tuxedo jackets are easy to miss when scrolling through images online. Or that Japanese selvedge denim is made with silver-plated closures. But again, it was the boldness of shape that most inspired, like the generosity of a padded stole draped over an embroidered silk blouse or a canary yellow bathrobe in micro knifed leather with silk cashmere and fleece lining. It doesn’t get more haute couture than that.
Only one tracksuit made the cut, but it was the weakest link in a show where oversized streetwear took a backseat to the sculptural forms of fashion.
What transpires is that this collection is not just the first foray into couture for Demna, but also for parent company Kering. No other brands in the French luxury group’s portfolio have ventured into the realm of fashion’s highest echelon. In an interview with WWD, Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault said the house of Balenciaga is “very, very far from reaching its full potential”. Judging by this collection, he may be profoundly right.