the opening day of paris menswear was all about the power of dreams
Demna Gvasalia dedicated his Balenciaga collection to hopefulness on the first day of the spring/summer 18 men's shows in Paris, as Pierpaolo Piccioli asked his Valentino boys to see the world with new eyes.
"We never went to the beach," Demna Gvasalia casually recalled at the end of an otherwise jolly interview session after his Balenciaga spring/summer 18 men's show, making brief reference to his childhood in war-torn Abkhazia. "It was too dangerous." Set in Paris' leafy Bois de Boulogne, he wanted the show to reflect a day in the park between father and son -- those same corporate suit types he referenced in last season's businessman collection, only this was the doting dad weekend version. "We started last season looking at pictures of young dads, and I think it's so beautiful to see young dads with a child. It's so hopeful and so positive," Gvasalia said, himself not a father yet. "I think it's quite personal. I feel like I need to catch up and -- at least in my work -- express the idea of the new generation and new beginnings."
Shown on real-life dads, sons and brothers, his collection was Balenciaga family values (if not at family value) seen through the eyes of a designer, whose own childhood was anything but a walk in the park. Aged 12, he fled civil war with his parents and brother over the Caucasus Mountains and it would be years before they finally found footing in Germany. His childhood experiences have vastly coloured his views and values, and when he talks about hopefulness it's entrenched in a sense of union and safety he couldn't take for granted growing up. It was there in the 'Europa!' slogans splashed across the collection's sports and streetwear, which had an unmistakable whiff of Iron Curtain-era Eastern Europe about it -- "something I associate with a dad," he pointed out, a child of 80s Soviet Union. A call for a united Europe, the slogans were backed up by ironic inspirational affirmations such as 'The Power of Dreams' and 'Think Big', "what those guys might have heard during office hours." One model came out with a Balenciaga mountain bike, there were disposable-style transparent raincoats and trousers patchworked to look like non-country-specific flags.
It would all have been a breeze of a show were it not for the underlying sense of dark that penetrated this picnic in the park. Carving out a stark contrast to Gvasalia's optimistic clothes was a somewhat heavy-hearted cast, and an even heavier music. What was the point of those Freddie Krueger-looking dads and the eerie Rammstein soundtrack that made the Bois de Boulogne tremble? "This dad is quite rock 'n' roll. He used to do a lot before he got kids," Gvasalia said and laughed, but the gloomy expressions on these dads' faces, and the bereft-looking brothers who walked the runway path without parents, made for a much more unnerving mood than Gvasalia let on. It didn't, however, seem intentional on his part -- to him, these garments were a positive uniform for a hopeful new generation of dads, and a reflection of the much happier state he's been in since he and his brother Guram Gvasalia moved their brand Vetements to Zurich this year.
"I spend more time with myself in nature and I've started meditating and doing good stuff for myself, so it's a drastic change for my personal life, which influences the work," he said of his new lifestyle by the lake in the Swiss capital. Some garments had the word 'Speedhunter' on them, Gvasalia's comment on the "the pace at which we work" in fashion. He still commutes to Paris every week for his Balenciaga duties, but cast and soundtrack aside, this collection was a reflection of a Demna Gvasalia reborn: a designer, whose views on the world will forever be shaped by an upbringing few of us can imagine, who is still searching for a sense of normal that's almost exotic to him. It's right there in the clothes he designs, in his extreme dance with the ordinary.
Gvasalia's Balenciaga collection could practically have been an in-conversation act with Pierpaolo Piccioli's Valentino show on Wednesday evening in the Hôtel Particulier d'Iéna. "To live in the global world, you have to have your own identity. When you're born you don't have awareness of yourself, but to be with others there's a moment when you have to define your identity," Piccioli reflected backstage. "I think in this moment in time it's super important to have your own identity, and all of us come from different cultures." He made his point in formalised, ornate sportswear bedecked in multi-cultural craft and references from across the African continent to India and Colombia. "We live in the same world, and that world doesn't have to have barriers. No mental barriers, no physical barriers. It's important the world becomes one," the designer said.
He talked about his collection as romantic, perhaps a given chez Valentino but not necessarily from the lips of Piccioli, who weighs his every word like an early-20th century psychoanalyst. But here, romanticism was integral to weigh up the decidedly street-y components that defined the collection: tracksuits, parkas and trainers -- not the first things that come to mind when you see the glamorous Valentino logo. Piccioli refined them with embellishment and worked in said logo in a way he hadn't before. "I knew the logo -- I'm a guy from the 80s! -- but working with the kids, the guys I work with, they were crazy about it," he said. "They didn't know the logo. It's new what you don't know, so I saw it with their eyes and now I love it. Everything is about this: seeing things with fresh eyes. I think it's good for life, not only fashion."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams