Demna Gvasalia has been with Balenciaga for a few seasons now but I’m still not quite convinced about him. No big fan of his Vetements label, I still have fond memories of some of the looks Nicolas Ghesquière created for Kering-owned Balenciaga and feel that the house’s founder is probably spinning in his grave at what the label turns out these days.
Yet I think I’m flying in the face of an enormous headwind because Kering is convinced, and so are the customers, lots of them.
Despite having fewer stores than a lot of luxury brands, and a website that leaves anyone aged over 40 wondering what it’s all about, Kering thinks this one could be a €1bn brand and is backing it heavily to be its next portfolio star after Gucci and Saint Laurent.
So Balenciaga really can’t be ignored. And based on yesterday’s show I wouldn’t want to. I don’t yet love it, but I kind of liked it a bit.
There was a lot in it that was very wearable, and while there was just as much that would look out of place anywhere except in a Paris Fashion Week street style report, I’m starting to get why it’s proving popular.
The AW18 show at the weekend was interesting for being the first time the label showed women’s and men’s on the same runway. Most looks in the two collections were made to complement each other with both a female version and a male one, and if not, to be fairly gender-neutral.
Giant tote bags for women and men in blue, lavender, yellow or black underlined the genderless approach and worked as well with a macho roomy denim jacket and lumberjack shirt as with a curvy women’s coat.
And we got bodycon looks for both sexes too – 80s-style mini-clingy dresses with plenty of stretch and ruching for women were balanced with close-cut stretchy pieces for men.
Gvasalia’s trademark tailoring was out in force but has retreated from the ‘ugly chic’ path he first took Balenciaga down a few seasons ago. The shoulders this time were much more practical, rather than looking like the coat hangers had been left in. And the angular hips were shapely rather than shocking.
Carrying through the genderless theme, the tailoring came with options for both her and him with the rather severe look of the women’s offer given a more whimsical edge as pieces were teamed with power colour stretchy hosiery boots in royal blue, acid green, or power pink.
There was a relaxed vibe too. The fluffy sweaters teamed with off-centre pleated skirts, and the giant slogan sweats (some of them in support of the World Food Programme) were pieces that could be picked up and worn easily even by those who wouldn’t give the tailoring a second glance in-store.
And one thing’s clear, despite the bodycon theme of the show’s opening section, Gvasalia is still sold on the volume trend of which he’s been a major driving force. The rest of the fashion world may have hitched a ride on that bandwagon this season but, bodycon pieces aside, Balenciaga’s creative chief can still-pump up the volume further than anyone.
Think denim puffas, wide-cut anoraks, leather jackets as the top layer of a multi-layered look, wide checked shirt jackets, casual coats atop denim (over still more layers), and some fuzzy faux fur coats that might mean their wearers have trouble squeezing through doors.
As I said, I didn’t love it but it was more likeable than usual. Would I choose it over Prada, Gucci, Kenzo, Miu Miu, Marant, Van Noten, Chloé et al? Nah. But then I’m not exactly the label’s target demographic. Give me just a few more seasons though and I might even change my mind.