demna thinks big and goes tech
The who, what and wow of Balenciaga 2018.
by Steve Salter
04 March 2018, 6:07pm
Photography Mitchell Sams
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“For me, that was my second first show,” Demna Gvasalia said backstage. “I’ve spent the last two years exploring what the legacy of Cristóbal means today. How could I, as a designer, translate the house legacy for now and for tomorrow.” From the moment he took control after the departure of Alexander Wang in 2015, the Georgia-born creative director has gone about revolutionising the house from the inside out. From its branding right through to its campaigns, it was Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga from the get-go. However, while he's established his own vision across the business, he has paid homage to the house's past -- most notably by marking last year's 100th anniversary of Balenciaga with nine haute couture dresses that had been lost from the archive and were recreated from scratch. While for spring/summer 18, Gvasalia had eyes firmly on the here and now and ultimately freed himself from any homage, he returned to the archive for autumn/winter 18 with the intent to reimagine it for today. “I had a creative revelation in October in which I knew precisely what I wanted to show today,” Gvasalia said. This epiphany envisioned everything from the message-adorned snow mountain set -- from "think big" to "love", "no borders" to "energy energy" -- to the garments themselves that re-engineered Balenciaga’s sculptural tailoring and the unification of the women’s and men’s collections. “Ultimately, It’s one language, one creative message from Balenciaga as a house,” he explained.
“One of the main codes of Balenciaga is the volume, and another is the innovation in tailoring because that’s what Balenciaga was a master of,” Gvasalia said. “My idea was to modernise and reinterpret the archive, so we asked ourselves how we can do that instead of using traditional methods?” The answer of re-engineering Balenciaga’s sculptural tailoring for the now was found in 3D body scanning and digital fittings. “It was the first time that I worked on a laptop,” Gvasalia confessed. “After 3D scanning bodies, we altered the shapes and 3D printed them on moulds. There are only two seams, there’s no construction and one layer of fabric.” he explained. The waisted outlines of the basque jacket and coat were precision-molded for both female and male physiques in a technique which bonded traditional wool, tweed and velvet to lightweight foam. The technology just didn’t exist before. “For me, it represents what I love about tailoring and what Balenciaga stands for in terms of architectural garments. We started quite artisanally, then worked with 3D scanning body moulding specialists -- we worked with people who aren’t used to working in fashion. I hope it’s the beginning of a long collaboration.”
Beyond tomorrow’s tailoring, the collection was conceived as a building of layers, against a mountain backdrop which hinted at the 90s snowboarding paradise inspiration. The idea of dressing for extreme weather developed in the progressive adding of layer on layer. “It was minus 7 in Paris last week, so it’s not just my interest, it’s my fear too,” he added. “It also meant we could go as far as possible with volume too.” The first look was a little black dress with close-to-body shapes and the silhouette slowly shape-shifted until the final few looks felt like the models were wearing their entire wardrobes at once -- reminiscent of Joey wearing all of Chandler’s clothes in that Friends episode and the @heyreilly memes have already started -- but they were in fact up to nine pieces of outerwear fused as one. “For me, the challenge was to start with something simple, the LBD was the first layer and then take it as far as I possibly could take the volume of Balenciaga. We ended up with shapes that are extremely reminiscent of those we discovered in the archives of Balenciaga, even for those we used the Demna pieces -- the hoodie, the parka -- it was my way of showing the new Balenciaga, defined by me being there.” The ultimate Balenciaga shapes were always on his mind, but he re-created them in fresh ways. While his first few seasons at the house could be read as Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga, this season marked the new Balenciaga, created by Demna Gvasalia. With so much to unpick, we asked him what he hoped people would take away from the collection. “It’s modernity in dressmaking,” he answered in an instant. “It’s something that I wanted to explore and I think within the tailoring part of this collection, it’s a big step for myself as a designer.” Both Demna Gvasalia and the Balenciaga house itself are pushing one another forward. “We can’t be afraid of the past but my thinking is about being open to the now and the future. We have to move forward. When you can make a jacket with only two seams, I’m all for it.” Us too.
The sheer scale of this collection’s ambition to explore a brave new world created wave after wave of wow. From the echoes of Cristóbal that were remixed for now -- the 3D scanned, 3D moulded tailoring and the outerwear that fused up to nine pieces and ultimately mimicked iconic house shapes -- Balenciaga used its platform to encourage positive change. “It’s about using fashion as a tool of communication,” Gvasalia explained. “I’m tired of just making prints. If I create a graphic, it has to be more, so this season we created a boyband and we created a neverending hotline but the main component is our support for the World Food Programme, which draws attention to the recent spike in global hunger and supports global efforts to end it by 2030. We consider this partnership to be an important step in making fashion useful in a different way and supporting good causes with our products whenever possible.” In addition to the US$250,000 donation Balenciaga has already provided to support the WFP’s work, this beginning saw co-branded WFP-products -- caps, T-shirts and hoodies -- with 10% of sales promised to make a tangible difference for people in hunger-stricken parts of the world. On our side of the message-covered snow mountain set, we could read “you are the world” and "think big”. Now is the time for big thinking. Can fashion be political? Of course it can. Here’s to more of our favourite houses using their platform to encourage positive change.
Photography Mitchell Sams