How to make the fashion industry engage with the climate crisis? Flood the venue, and submerge the front row.
Arriving at the Balenciaga show in Paris on Sunday morning, the audience found themselves entering at the periphery of what looked like a sports stadium, with banks of flip-up plastic seats around a central oval. In pitch blackness, it was hard to tell exactly, but attendants were on hand with torches, and strict instructions not to proceed beyond the third row.
When the lights went up it became clear why the front rows were out of bounds. Those seats and the stage in the centre of the room were underwater.
Balenciaga’s broad cast of models, drawn from friends and acquaintances of the design team, are listed by name and occupation in the show notes. First on to the catwalk was the gymnast Lina Zhang, in a sharp ebony bob and black velvet cassock that dragged through the water around her heavy boots.
Law student Marius Courcoul was next, water splashing around his grand cape with its tiered silhouette akin to a cardinal’s choir vestment. A light show of swirling clouds and a bass-heavy soundtrack added to the doom-laden, paranoiac atmosphere already engendered by the waters lapping perilously close to the shoes and handbags of the audience.
But the clothes were more eccentric than sombre. There were white motorcycle leathers and a full football strip in three colours for the – sadly fictional – Balenciaga football club. Classic trench coats came in latex, this show season’s cult fabric. Shoulder pads curved upwards and outward to a high, pinched point, a silhouette nicknamed the pagoda shoulder.
Balenciaga-branded wellies and leather galoshes made a bid for high-fashion festival wardrobes, should current weather patterns continue. A new category of “evening streetwear” included slick jumpsuits thermoformed at the torso to create a cinched waist, in a nod to the fetish-gone-mainstream trend for waist-trainers. Kim Kardashian, seated front row in toffee-toned latex with a waist-length ponytail, might claim muse status here.
“The apolocalypse? No, it was a celebration of fashion,” said designer Demna Gvasalia backstage after the show. “This is what I love doing. I spent Christmas behind a sewing machine, remaking my clothes. This collection was all the things I loved, growing up in Georgia. I had a fetishistic obsession with priests and with football players.”
Gvasalia described the show as “the most Demna collection I have done” but with many links to house founder Cristóbal Balenciaga, a lifelong devout Catholic who often used clerical robes as inspiration for his silhouettes. At his funeral in 1972, the eulogy was delivered by a priest wearing Balenciaga robes. Gvasalia wanted to use “biblical, cinematic storytelling” in the staging, he said.
In a Paris fashion week dominated by coronavirus concerns, Kanye West – rapper, fashion designer and noted contrarian – bucked the trend for cancellations by announcing a Yeezy season eight show to be staged on Monday evening, in a late addition to the schedule. Last-minute invitations from “the West family” for the unveiling allude obliquely to “a little piece of our home in Cody, Wyoming”.
The show is the first high-profile fashion week outing in three years for West, who since 2017 has instead used social media to showcase Yeezy. Held in the French Communist party headquarters, an architectural landmark designed by Oscar Niemeyer, it marks his first Paris fashion week show since he made his catwalk debut here in 2011.