Listen to this article
Last season Demna Gvasalia unveiled a new look for the Kering-owned house of Balenciaga. He took the couture techniques of the house’s founder Cristóbal Balenciaga and used them to re-examine the modern wardrobe: blazers were recut with an exaggerated high square shoulder and a defined waist; the trench coat was cut to wear two ways — in one version it seemed suspended from the shoulder. A down-filled ski jacket was elevated to high fashion and give a couturier spin.
The looks — clean, modern, arresting — were echoed again in Gvasalia’s first menswear collection. Both were hailed as seasonal high points. Both unleashed a score of imitations: Gvasalia’s silhouette has been a defining characteristic of the SS17 collections, where the bolder shoulder has barged down many catwalks. The “Demna look” has become fashion lexicon.
For his SS17 show, Gvasalia stretched the silhouette some more. Quite literally. With spandex, a fabric first invented in 1958, during the time Balenciaga himself was experimenting with silk gazar to create his own extraordinary volumes and shapes. Gvasalia had been fascinated by the material’s ability to stretch to “five times its length”, and put it to use in a stretchy, whip-thin legging that morphed into a boot. “I wanted to take the line from hip to toe,” he said of his liquorice-legged models, teetering on spindle heels. “To make it knife-edge sharp and narrow.”
It was very, very sharp — and very, very leggy. Sometimes shiny patent, sometimes floral, sometimes nude, the leg was encased in spandex, either in shoe boots or tights worn with stilettos. The heels climbed upwards of 100mm and were punishingly hard to walk in.
There were more tailoring tricks as well: a skirt that would pull into a pinafore, a jacket with a built-in skirt. The shoulder had been raised again, padded and then hollowed, as though still hung on a coat hanger.
Any controversial ideas here however were cleverly balanced with the more commercial. The looks were worn with a giant, circular holdall bag, like a Moroccan pouffe cushion (a nice contrast to his great square shopper) and there were twinkly brooches and jewels, some taken directly from the archive, to pretty things up. Gvasalia had used floral 1950s bathing-suit prints in jolly clashing colourways to make his gently draped blouses and twisted separates. They were effortlessly wearable. “I wanted it to feel happy,” he said backstage. He was wearing a red T-shirt printed “spandex”.
There were lots of coats, too: trenches, mackintoshes and, in one instance, a mannish sou’wester, tied under the neck in a bow. Gvasalia’s real genius at Balenciaga, and at Vetements (the label he runs with his brother), has been in his reinterpretation of quotidian classics. He makes the everyday look more interesting and essential. Did you think you might want to dress like a Nordic fisherman next season? Well, you will now.