Balenciaga's autumn-winter show blends chic with touch of reality

Trouser suits, practical flap pockets, and models with shopping bags feature in Paris

A catwalk show as a love letter to Parisian style is an idea that has been done before, but not like this. Balenciaga’s designer Demna Gvasalia may have “fallen in love with Paris all over again,” but this was not the Paris of Robert Doisneau and lamplit bridges, of berets and Édith Piaf.

The show was held on a Sunday morning in Paris, but instead of piping in the scent of crusty baguettes to evoke the smell of the city streets, Gvasalia had the venue laid with fresh asphalt for an authentic urban fragrance.

“There is no Balenciaga without Paris,” said Gvasalia after the show. “But this is modern Paris. What Balenciaga is now must be a modern version of Parisian style, not something from the 1950s or 1960s.”

The fashion house is a ‘modern version of Parisian style’, says the designer.
The fashion house is a ‘modern version of Parisian style’, says the designer. Photograph: WWD/Rex and Shutterstock

Balenciaga is still chic. Cristóbal Balenciaga, the house’s founder, devised elegant silhouettes for outerwear – cocoon and opera coats with dropped shoulder seams – which remain house codes. But they were shown on the catwalk the way they might be in real life.

Models wore their bags across the body, because that’s the way people wear them in real life, even if it means the straps cut across the lapels in a way that many designers wouldn’t countenance for a catwalk show. Others carried two or three shopping bags. It makes for an image less sleek and glamorous than a simple clutch bag. “I’m making fashion. So we want people to buy stuff,” shrugged Gvasalia.

Shopping bags were carried by some of the models.
Shopping bags were carried by some of the models. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

The first four looks on to the asphalt catwalk were black trouser suits. One was sleek and collarless over a polo neck, two had businesslike notched lapels, one a tuxedo shawl satin collar.

There were wrapped trench coats in ketchup-red vinyl and black satin, worn with the collar popped, smartly finished with black lace tights and heels. (“I find buttons quite retro, so I try to either hide them or take them away.”) But there were also puffer jackets worn with nylon tracksuit bottoms with a dull nylon sheen.

There were babydoll dresses for evening (a Balenciaga classic) but lots of jeans, too. Balenciaga-logo tote bags were just big enough to hold a water bottle; house logo T-shirts had a jaunty tourist-shop look to them. An emerald-green coat had four practical flap pockets on the front, like a parka, but grand puffed sleeves.

A coat sported flap pockets.
A coat sported flap pockets. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

Some models carried a Balenciaga-branded version of the Eiffel Tower keyring that is a staple of the stalls along the Rue de Rivoli. “We figured out you can use that keyring as a defence tool. We didn’t mean it like that and we probably can’t sell it as that – but the models all loved it,” said the designer.

The audience were arranged around the edge of a playing field-sized space with a low ceiling, lit by harsh strobing. There were no photographers in the room to create competing noise or light or movement. (“I know you have all got used to having them them there, but having them in the same space makes it difficult to create the ambience we want.”)

The vast space remained mostly empty as the models walked around the very edge of the space, keeping close enough to the audience to brush past as they would on a city street, a choreography designed to force engagement. “By putting them so close to you all, the idea was to make you feel a bit awkward,” the designer told reporters backstage.


Jess Cartner-Morley in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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