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The collection was a natural conception
We’ve had almost as much time to imagine what Demna Gvasalia’s haute couture for Balenciaga would look like, as he had to create it. When it was revealed in Cristobal Balenciaga’s newly restored salons on 10 Avenue George V, it made perfect sense. Not that it was predictable, just natural: Gvasalia translated his subversive ideas of normcore glamour into the language of haute couture, imbuing tropes of the everyday wardrobe with the gestures of Cristobal’s dressmaking. When he exercised a popular notion of couture in ballroom dresses, Gvasalia infused them with his own genetics rooted in the street and performance wardrobes. It was a perfect symbiosis because the success of Gvasalia’s work has always been founded in his knowledge of both poles. And, because he had a year to create it, in peace and quiet, in his adopted hometown of Zurich.
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Couture was an epiphany for Gvasalia
“The pandemic made me reconnect with myself, take those months of silence, and really understand what I love in this medium. And it’s not about fashion. Actually, I love clothes,” Gvasalia said after the show. He named his former brand Vetements because of his interest in real clothes. “I’ve been talking about clothes—clothes, clothes, clothes—rather than fashion, and I realised that, after two weeks in my pyjamas at home, I started to dress up every morning. I realised that clothes have a psychological impact on me. They make me happy. I realised that this is the purpose of fashion. It’s not about the whole frenzy and flowers and the white noise, as I call it; the digital mayhem we’re living through. It’s not sneakers and hoodies, which everybody knows I love doing, but this is actually what I’m really into. This is what turns me on.”
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He translated everyday codes into couture
Gvasalia’s early lockdown epiphanies fuelled an haute couture proposal devoted to making the old craft relevant for a contemporary audience, that buys his ready-to-wear at Balenciaga. Like a real couture nerd, he studied and investigated the tropes of the everyday wardrobe—the trench coat, the hoodie, the parka—and elevated it through the draping and volumes synonymous with Cristobal Balenciaga (and, by proxy, the idea of haute couture shapes today). Tackling the denim trouser, Gvasalia went to its most authentic American roots—via suppliers in Thailand and Japan—to find the finest fabric, and forged the buttons of jeans in real silver. Don’t even get him started on how he couturified the humble T-shirt: “It was the hardest piece for me to make. I suffered for three months. It’s much easier to make a ballroom dress with embroidery, or even a tailored jacket.” He constructed it architecturally around the body and hand-crafted it in thick, luxe satin.
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Gvasalia paid tribute to nonconformity
Gvasalia showed his collection in complete silence, in tribute to the absence of noise that had birthed it during lockdown, and because Balenciaga himself worked in silence. It refocused attention on the garments, but also on his exceptionally diverse cast, who embodied the designer’s idea of who a couture client could be today. “I don’t like standardised beauty in general,” he pointed out. “Wearing those kinds of clothes is very new for most of these people, because they have their own style and attitude. But somehow, it gave them this posture that is built-in. And this is what couture does.” When those clients come to Balenciaga to place their couture orders in the future, fittings will happen in the salons where Gvasalia presented his show, restored and purposely aged to look exactly the way Cristobal left them in 1968. “His spirit is somewhere in these walls,” said the designer, who also imbued his garments with the trace of time. “It’s the decay that I always find very beautiful, much more beautiful than something new and freshly made.”
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Couture will impact Balenciaga on every level
For those of us who have seen the spirit of a couturier in Gvasalia since he burst onto the fashion scene in 2014, his haute debut was about time. If his ready-to-wear for Balenciaga—and all the virtual reality and computer game formats he frames it with—has made this designer one of the most progressive we have, the infusion of haute couture into his veins will connect him to a past that could only fuel the future. “Even though fashion is always about the present moment, that heritage and that master class of Cristobal Balenciaga’s work, it was always on my mind. But like a sacred Grail, I never dared to talk about it,” Gvasalia said. If this collection was a statement that needed to be made—a natural fusion of Gvasalia and Balenciaga on the highest level fashion knows—his future couture endeavours will serve to push his technical merit, explore his expression, and trickle into the pyramid that structures his expanding Balenciaga empire.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.