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Balenciaga’s Couture Return to the Runway

Balenciaga haute couture has been a sleeping giant since the atelier’s closure in 1968. For the first time in 53 years, the luxury fashion house has relaunched a presentation of couture under creative director Demna Gvasalia. The collection recontextualized classic motifs of Cristóbal Balenciaga in a subversive manner true to Gvasalia while also paying a solemn tribute to the house’s founder.

The weight in the atmosphere of the momentous occasion was magnified by the lack of music during the show. Amidst the quiet chatter of the audience, the show began with the models’ footsteps echoing against the rustling of clothing, taking inspiration from couture shows in the mid-1950s, a time familiar to Cristóbal Balenciaga when all runway shows were shown with an absence of music.

The homage to the house of Balenciaga continues throughout this highly self-referential collection. Multiple sculptural pieces reference Balenciaga’s 1962 cape coat, which itself alludes to Paul Poiret’s cocoon coat of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original inspiration. Poiret’s cocoon coat was carved into a silhouette inspired by the sloping back collar and draping of Japanese kimonos. Like many designers of the early 20th century, Poiret created pieces with techniques or materials that originated from Asia, a prime example of the impact of true Orientalism. Today, the inspiration for many contemporary looks comes full circle as Gvasalia sources Japanese denim for his denim couture looks.

The final look of the collection is a sleeveless, mock-neck wedding dress with a sheer veil that covers half of the wearer’s body. This piece is reminiscent of Balenciaga’s 1967 single seam wedding gown, and the contemporary revamp was worn by Kim Kardasian at Kanye West’s third DONDA listening party. For both the couture show and the album launch, the dress provided drama through its solemn and austere design.

Demna Gvasalia presented a subtle history lesson while playing to his strengths creating everyday wear at the high level. The cloudy distinction between Balenciaga’s ready-to-wear and haute couture leads the audience to witnessing the irony in fashion. For example, pedestrian pieces made at a haute couture level became plain cable-knit sweaters that were elevated with micro-chainmail. Balenciaga’s comeback to couture acknowledged Cristóbal Balenciaga’s historical impact through Gvasalia’s signature tone, reflective of contemporary discourse where a sincerity towards the dedication haute couture takes is found through the irony of ready-to-wear shapes.

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