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At the Paris menswear shows for SS17, it was a day of firsts. On the first day, the first major show was from Balenciaga, the first time the brand has ever presented its menswear on the catwalk. It was also the first Balenciaga men’s collection from new creative director Demna Gvasalia who has never before designed an entire men’s collection. At his other label Vetements, the cult that made his name, menswear is mixed in with women’s.
Gvasalia used the occasion to experiment with tailoring: super-shouldered, or skinny and body-wrapping, the placing of buttons a tool in the play of scale. By doing so, he created a menswear collection of power and authority. He also joins a clutch of other young designers — Grace Wales Bonner; Gosha Rubchinskiy — whose new take on tailoring makes traditional suit brands look lame.
“Cristobal was a tailor himself,” said Gvasalia, backstage. He was talking of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the founder of the house. “He made his own clothes. He was one of the few couturiers who could make his own clothes from A-Z, and for me it was quite obvious to work on tailoring.” The opening jackets and coats came with shoulders that extended wide and far from the body. Underneath, shirts were buttoned to the neck. Shorts sat tight to the leg, cut just below the knee. It’s a look of intent.
Gvasalia said this was all a nod to the brand’s heritage of playing with scale. “For me, Balenciaga is about experimenting with shapes and volumes and the silhouette,” he said. Indeed as much as the wide tailoring was impressive, it was those snug double breasted jackets that really hit home, the line long, the front panel almost reaching over to the other side. The buttons were concealed, but stitching showed where they sat, with exaggerated spacing in a big square to the side of the stomach. After so many days of the menswear shows, it’s easy to get overexcited about the placement of buttons. This showed the depth of thought which made this collection so bracing.
There was so much good stuff. Versions of MA1 flying jackets have become such a familiar sight on catwalks recently as to almost be redundant. The cropped, wide-shouldered MA1 here made a forceful new case for the style. A vivid blue little military jacket was a clever play with proportion. Then there were shirts elasticated at the waist, which were a neat commercial trick; Balenciaga logo caps — all bits to please buyers.
Straight afterwards, Gvasalia was smoking a cigarette by a window backstage. “I feel good,” he said. “We had fun doing this first collection. I feel quite relieved now because menswear was such a challenge.” Before now, Balenciaga menswear was only presented in its showroom. “What is the definition of Balenciaga men’s?” He asked. “It used to be in the shadow of the women’s, historically. I really wanted to do the show because it’s a clean slate for me to start working on this new men’s identity.”
How did it feel designing a collection just for men? “Very different,” he said. “I now realise it was something that was missing in my creative career.”
“Do you want to try it on?” said Lotta Volkova, stylist for the show and a close collaborator of Gvasalia, had spied me taking photos of the MA1 on the rail. I put it on and loved it. Wait, what about that cropped blue military jacket? It was on the rail beside it. I’d be surprised if anything else trumps it as my favourite piece of the season.