On the one hand you have a man who was a true designer’s designer. Praised by Coco Chanel for cutting and sewing better than anyone in Paris, the sometimes-called Father of 20th century fashion, he defined what it was to be a woman in the 1950s. On the other hand you have a rebel who has taken popular culture and high fashion to extremes with his collaborative and controversial label. A dictator and a democrat, who are tied together with a bond so strong, it is difficult not to find similarities between the two. Cristóbal Balenciaga was the Basque who paved the way for women’s fashion today, but with slow steps and gradual changes. Demna Gvasalia is the Scandinavian whose brand Vetements can be seen as the anti-thesis to high fashion. With a $281 DHL emblazoned t-shirt for sale, what would the austere Balenciaga think? We explore how Gvasalia is appropriating Balenciaga’s legacy for the modern woman.
Balenciaga was an uncompromising designer who focused on technicalities and design more than anyone else of his time. Rather than produce shocking and exciting collections year after year, it seems his entire life’s work were a continuation of itself. He was especially interested in fabrics and cuts and often took apart the clothes his contemporaries made to see how they did things. His work has been referred to as art and sculpture and even years later his name reminds one of the finer side of fashion.
“Even in the Thirties and until his retirement, he was not someone who stuck to the rules of the time,” CEO and President of Balenciaga Isabelle Guichot said. “He was always reinventing the way he was working, reinventing the way he spoke to the client, reinventing the way he presented his collections, to the point where at the end he was doing a show without any press in the audience.”
Non-conformist Gvasalia who took the reigns of the Balenciaga label from Alexander Wang in October of last year, has made Balenciaga utilitarian while respecting the female form. Utility is something both designers seem to believe in, as Cristóbal was the engineer behind the sack dress, three-quarter sleeve and stand-away collar. Gvasalia takes an almost sociological approach to understand the customer and according to Guichot, “understanding the mechanisms of seduction”. His style is highly influenced by the deconstructionism of Maison Martin Margiela however his idea of ‘wardrobing’ where pieces are intended to be a continuum of on another and build upon each other, converges with Balenciaga’s ethos.
Gvasalia has immense respect for the garment and form, something he shared with Balenciaga. Whereas Balenciaga created austere, sculptural garments that were precursors for the sack dress, cocoon coat and balloon skirts; Gvasalia has used these shapes to create a new aesthetic. He has created anoraks that celebrate the cocoon silhouette while using shape as his muse. The show note from Gvasalia’s debut collection stated, “a reimagining of the work of Cristobal Balenciaga—a wardrobe of absolute contemporaneity and realism imbued with the attitude of haute couture. A translation, not a reiteration. A new chapter.”
Gvasalia’s debut collection for Balenciaga paid tribute to the designer while incorporating some of his signature moves like exaggerated proportions, deconstructed silhouettes and ‘wardrobing’. We see an increased amount of attention being paid to the individual garment rather than the overall look and are excited to see how this plays out in seasons to come.
Shop Balenciaga at Le Mill