I have to be honest a part of me wonders if the leaders of Balenciaga have learned anything from the Alexander/Cristóbal pairing. Today, they have announced that Demna Gvasalia, the wunderkind Georgian designer behind Vetéments, has been appointed creative director of Balenciaga.
I love Vetéments. Love it. I’ve loved it since they launched. I knew it was a future kind of brand. It is not about beauty. It is not about precision. It is about purity, and effortlessly being lost. It is about the tales of growing up. Being young and completely unapologetic in it.
I love the Vetéments brand. BUT. I do not understand this decision.
The leaders at Balenciaga are making this decision based upon trends. They did it with Wang and the “cool-girl, sports-wear, zip up and zip out” style of designer Alexander Wang is. And that was very popular when they hired HIM for Balenciaga. But women do not spend 30,000 dollars for a ‘cool girl, sports-wear, zip up and zip out’ kind of dress.
Now we have the “lost in translation, unapologetic, young and dark” Vetéments designer creating clothes underneath an iconic brand. An iconic brand. I cannot say this enough. An iconic brand.
It isn’t about Demna’s ability as a designer. He is extraordinary. But this is not Yves Saint Laurent. It’s not. Balenciaga is searching for their perfect YSL partner. The way Hedi transformed YSL. But YSL, who actually was a rebel, is more similar to Hedi Slimane. Although, truth be told, I am waiting for Hedi to leave YSL not because he isn’t great but because it is not YSL. It’s not. But, regardless, there is a greater correlation between Saint Laurent and Hedi. As a young man Yves was fired from Christian Dior because he created a rebellious collection. And, it was the motivation Yves needed to create his own line, and the rest is history. YSL most iconic look is still the most scandalous, when he took inspiration form Africa and the Safari. It is still copied to this day.
But Cristóbal Balenciaga was never a rebel. He was never fired. He closed his couture shop in avoidance of Ready to Wear. This is why Alexander Wang did not work. Wang’s last collection for Balenciaga was sumptuous and beautiful because he went into the boudoir of the the Balenciage girl. And that is the closest Wang EVER got to properly representing Balenciaga in a modern-way.
Now we have Demna, who I admit is amazing with leather. Because he places structure there. He also places structure in his coats and tall boots.
And this hints to the idea that he could do something more refined. Something worthy of a Queen (which is whom Balenciaga dressed).
But Demna must create something that will retain the wealthy Balenciaga clients, as well as attract a new younger (wealthy) market, while retaining the essence of Cristóbal Balenciaga in a modern world that is hell bent on comfort.
Sometimes I wish Balenciaga would simply focus on Couture. Focus on the 14,000 clients who can afford and are purchasing Couture. But they won’t. Because they want to compete with Yves Saint Laurent, and Givenchy, and Balmain.
But let’s play this game. What would Demna do. I would guess that Demna would go straight into the Balenciaga archives. He will make everything structured, keep the box shape that he loves (and Cristóbal loved as well). And he will do the oversize looks that he loves (and Cristóbal loved), like the pod coats.
But Demna will play with the shape and textile on everything, using more modern versions (which could fun!). And, he will have the best fabrics and embellishments money can buy. He will have the best of everything. I expect that if he does this, he will go big BIG on embellishments.
This sounds good but it wouldn’t be new. It would be a reserved collection… And the problem is, a realized version of my predictions— it wouldn’t take the brand into the future. So let’s hope he does something different.
The truth is, Balenciaga needs to go back to the beginning. Balenciaga needs a Spanish designer. Someone who understands the DNA of why Cristóbal Balenciaga clothes were so iconic at that time, and still is. Someone who understands the beauty and culture of Spain and the Spanish textiles, the embellishments, the box-y silhouettes. Someone who knows the fabric of the Spanish lace and how to manipulate it. This is uncharted territory TODAY! No one big in the industry is doing it. No one has modernized it. But I can’t accept that no-one has done it. I think we just don’t know about them yet.
But the decision has been made. And we will have to wait and see (wait and judge!). Demna will show his first collection for the Fall/ Winter 2016-17 season in March 2016.