Every artist eventually returns to their roots. Pablo Picasso did so for a brief while in 1918, where it was theorised that the effects of World War I influenced a realism moment for the known surrealist artist. Madonna took it against label executives’ warnings and produced a laid-back, country-inspired album at the height of her high-profile career. But what did Picasso and Madonna have in common that transpired the need to return to their roots? A sudden sense of self-discovery.
When a certain result or quality is expected of you, after years of cultivating and refining it to your name, stumbling upon a need to start again is a chance to restart things. It is a fresh take on your abilities to remove the noise surrounding your name and your work and eventually find something new to talk about.
Then there is Balenciaga, specifically its Winter ’23 collection, where creative director Demna did away with the meta, camp-induced click baits he has induced the brand towards for years. Instead, he leaned his attention towards stripping back to design fundamentals — a feature that will trickle down even to his most recent 52nd Couture collection in July.
Here, the designer took the shoes of the brand’s founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and abandoned his own. A change in the air brought to life immediately by using simple white canvas drapes in the collection’s show or the backdrops of the still-in-progress restoration of the ateliers at 10–12 Avenue George V in its campaign. It is undoubtedly a startling contrast, given the inescapable gritty, techno-infused landscapes and attitudes of Demna’s Balenciaga that has been tied to his name.
So what of the beginning for Balenciaga? Simple, it meant full steam ahead on focusing on design — the way Cristóbal Balenciaga had established the brand. Not just meaningful design that ceaselessly draped the body to perfection or produced outfits drawn out of the archives and tweaked to modern interpretation. But to begin again meant new ways of thinking about fashion, just as Balenciaga was known for being a master in deconstructing the perceived. It would explain why Winter ’23 still looks fresh and modern despite its connotations of heritage.
To steer the house back to its beginnings would be to respect Christobal’s Balenciaga intentions. His commitment to deconstruct was palpable, a trope that made him all the more powerful given his awareness that not everyone favours rebellious thinking. That line of thinking would lead Demna to produce new forms of deconstruction.
While producing volume was Cristóbal Balenciaga’s forte — who achieved it by breaking the rules of forms back then — Demna replicated it using air. Zip-up hoodies, motorcycle jackets, tracksuits, and puffer jackets are reconstituted with inflatable shapes sewn into the linings. Its intention is completely Cristóbal Balenciaga, but its execution — produced with everyday aesthetics — has Demna’s inklings shown throughout still. Silk georgette gowns with draping and gathering of extremely asymmetrical cuts also suggest new forms of volumes.
There might be things that Demna’s Balenciaga has yet to accomplish at Balenciaga, but of all the designers who have been given the title of creative director at the house, Demna is the only one who comes as close to Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original intentions. Even jersey — a material unknown to the original Balenciaga house — has been remade through deconstruction in the collection.
Small-fit sweatsuits in jersey or velour, animal print leather trenches, and floral print plissé dresses were all rebuilt to highlight shoulders and provide a prominent, rounded form thanks to armoured patches.
Its Couture line also makes an appearance: floor-length gowns that were painstakingly sequinned, crystal-studded, layered with beaded fringe, knit with sparkling yarns, lace embroidered, and hand-embellished with single drops of silicon draws extreme parallels to the usage of everyday items and Balenciaga’s context of Haute Couture techniques. Bags were blown up in proportions too, but soft in touch — the collection introduces the Monaco Bag and an evolution of the Crush Bag.
This article was first published on MEN’S FOLIO Singapore.
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