10 Avenue George V is a mythical address for Parisian couture: the first floor housed the haute couture salons of Cristóbal Balenciaga, one of the most exacting and rigorous designers who ever lived. Disdainful and heartbroken by the dwindling of women to dress as styles and lifestyles shifted, Cristóbal closed his couture business in 1968. Today, the house that bears his name is owned by luxury conglomerate Kering and attracts a clientele that appreciates its broad-shouldered tailoring and monstrous sneakers, but has little concept of the history of the house. And yet that history is a fundamental asset to the brand and a main source of inspiration for designer Demna Gvasalia, who now goes simply by Demna.
“Couture is the backbone of this maison and the reason why we have decided to reopen the salons after fifty-three years,” he said after the most anticipated show of the season, hosted at 10 Avenue George V in a bid for continuity, no matter the intervening decades. Taking over where Cristóbal left off, the outing was branded Balenciaga’s “50th couture collection.” The salons were restored to look exactly as they were on the day Cristóbal closed them, from the sun-bleached curtains to the cracked plasters to the stained carpet. Similarly faithful to Cristóbal’s original spirit was the monastic, vaguely religious rigour of the show, held in deafening silence, punctuated only by the sound of heels slipping on the carpet.
But Demna is no archivist, and the show, although filled with nods to iconic Balenciaga shapes, was not an exercise in nostalgia. The designer reimagined couture essentially as an elevated version, in both fabrics and cuts, of his ready-to-wear with the same menacing, broad-shouldered silhouettes; the same forays into utility or sport; and the same intentionally ungainly, androgynous spirit.
In this sense, the endeavour looked more like a reiteration than a reset, if with greater sophistication. It was all faultlessly executed, but it left one craving for something different, for a bold, unseen proposition. “What interests me right now is making clothes, not fashion,” was Demna’s response to those looking for the shock of the new. Ok. And yet, one might have expected more from such an author. This was a great start, but not a revolution.
Can Balenciaga Modernise Couture?
Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972)