“It’s a deep fake of a fashion show,” declared Demna Gvasalia, on the phone from his home in Switzerland ahead of the launch of the ultra-high tech video for his spring 2022 Balenciaga Clones collection today. “What we see online is not what it is. What’s real and what’s fake?”
Ostensibly, one model—the artist Eliza Douglas, who has opened or closed Balenciaga shows since Gvasalia’s first collection for the house in fall 2016—appears wearing both women’s and menswear on a white runway in front of a black-clad audience. But no one was ‘there’ and no one is ‘real.’ “It’s a show that never happened,” Gvasalia laughed. “But the clothes are real, they were made.”
Accompanying information came in a deluge of language detailing the techniques the video producer Quentin Deronzier deployed to fake up Douglas’s appearance: photogrammetry, CG grafting of her scanned face, planar tracking, rotoscoping, machine learning, and 3D modeling. Phew, whatever happened to fashion press releases speaking about bias cutting, draping, arcane fabric weaves, embroidery, and inspiration? We’re in a new world now, in large part because all designers have had to grapple with 15 months of the pandemic preventing real-life show gatherings. What’s the alternative, on screen? Gvasalia, for one, has delighted in grabbing the opportunity to shift the medium of brand Balenciaga ever further into the realms of multi-level, conversation-and-meme generating entertainment. He started consulting with tech people well before the virus got out.
There’s the Hacker Project, for one thing—this season’s return match with Gucci, in which Balenciaga has ‘stolen’ classic Gucci bag shapes and reprinted them with BBs instead of GGs, just as Alessandro Michele reproduced Demna-Balenciaga patterns and diagonal branding in his last collection. There’s a Gucci bestseller GG buckle belt redone with BBs, too. “Alessandro and I are very different,” Gvaslia remarked. “But we both like to question this whole question around branding and appropriation… because everyone does it, whether they say it or not.” Surely a mischief-making dig at the social media court of who’s-copied-who, there—coals over which both Gvasalia and Michele have been hauled time and again.
One of the totes comes knowingly scrawled with the graffiti legend ‘This is not a Gucci bag’—a reference to Rene Magritte’s 1929 painting The Treachery of Images. Questioning the authenticity of what we’re looking at has been going on in art since Surrealist times. The result here: a perfectly oxymoronic range of ‘genuine counterfeits’ for our mind-twisted times. Whether it actually matters who produces whatever in fashion anymore seems to be the big contention being raised. Up to a point. Sales receipts of these co-branded souvenirs will of course go safely back to the Balenciaga and Gucci parent company Kering.
In-jokes within in-jokes are a Gvasalia speciality. There’s another laugh on the front of a black hoodie which has a print of The Simpsons family, wearing Balenciaga. Ever-fashionable Marge is sporting a black puffer with a stand-away collar. Bart lurks in an oversize black coat and Balenciaga Matrix-y shades. Homer is at home in a Balenciaga tracksuit. Maggie is wearing the exact same padded-hip suit that Eliza Douglas wore to open Gvasalia’s Balenciaga fall 2016 show. And who in all fashion-land wouldn’t want to own this?
Sure enough, there are actual Marge-approved black puffer coats with Gvasalia’s Cristobal Balenciaga-echoing stand away collars on the runway— alongside reiterations, re-renderings, and re-fabrications of everything he’s brought to the house over the past six years. There’s no mistaking his roster of signatures: the Gvasalia super-sized tailoring and coats; the loose printed dresses; the ski-jackets, hoodies; and streetwear; cyber-Gothic denim; the severely elegant evening wear. With it, a vast range of distinctive Balenciaga accessories, from a re-issue of the Crocs collaboration to the diamanté bow jewelry that originated in the house archive.
There’s a part of Gvasalia that wanted to illuminate his fake runway with a bit of light and hope, he said. The first look to step out, in black velvet, with a heavy veil, refers back to his prophetically apocalyptic show of February 2020. “It’s almost like mourning something; where we’ve all been,” he said. “But I wanted it to go into a bright space. And I ended it with a red ballroom dress.”
After the retreat of the Balenciaga Clones, he has the exact opposite planned: the showing of his much-anticipated first haute couture show, in real life, in Paris in early July. Hand-made, in the works for more than a year, in front of a small audience, it’ll be his next big creative step forward. One thing’s for sure: There’ll be no place for faking it there.
This article was originally published on Vogue.