Review of Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture Fashion Show
History, Knowledge and the Future Rest on The Shoulders of Very Broad Shoulder Boxy Pantsuits & Others
By Long Nguyen
Fifty-three years have passed since Cristóbal Balenciaga closed the doors of his house, largely due to the birth of ready-to-wear, which questioned the raison d’être for the concept of haute couture. Over half a century later, I see it as my creative obligation to the unique heritage of M. Balenciaga to bring the couture back to the house. It is the very foundation of this century old. The relaunch of the couture line will offer the highest creative and qualitative level of our product to our customers, as well as complete my multi-layered vision for Balenciaga the brand, which ranges up from streetwear into conceptual fashion and wardrobe and ultimately into one-of-a-kind, made-to-measure couture pieces.
– Demna Gvasalia, on the meaning of this first Balenciaga couture collection in fifty-three years in Paris
Translate this philosophical approach into actual clothes here meant an outstanding fall couture collection of precisely cut garments that combine elements of tradition, heritage, savoir-faire, and future into controlled volume architectural shapes with rigid cutting and draping techniques. These couture clothes shape the body with their specific forms.
The heritage of Balenciaga in haute couture is omnipresent like a backbone of this fall collection – the square coat (1944), the linear suits with broadening shoulder and no waistline (1951), the balloon jacket (1953), the high waist baby doll dress (1957), the cocoon coat (1957), the sack dress (1957) the empire line (1959), and the chemise dress (1958) or the spherical balloon jacket (1953).
Gvasalia transformed these heritage fashion shapes into his Balenciaga couture by expanding and making the house language of fashion into modern idioms that a younger generation can quickly grasp and appreciate. The denim jacket and matching pants are in the same couture handcraft processes that result in the dark grey waist jacket with padded stole and prince of wales shirt. The jeans, of course, have silver-plated buttons.
The design focuses mainly on the dominant shoulders and the neckline that dictate the overall shape of each jacket, coat, or dress. The waist plays a lesser prominent but still critical role as a midway point separating the heavier upper body volume from the slimmer lower body section.
This design process is critical in how these clothes can be perceived because their proportions intended to produce this off-proportion scale. The balance tips upward, say, in the swing back jacket and skirt as the jacket has a high v-neckline so that the collar lapel is now in the back rather than in the center, thereby lifting the jacket in an upward movement.
“Couture is the highest level of garment construction, that is not only relevant in today’s mass-productive industry but even necessary for the survival and further evolution of modern fashion design,” Gvasalia said about the critical contribution to innovative design inherent in the crafts of haute couture.
The tailoring is the forte of this collection with the broad shoulder black single breast fresco wool with unfinished trompe l’oeil shirt cuffs and pin closure pants, and a tank top opened the show collection.
In the first forty looks of the show collection, there were just three dresses – a molded dress in black and ecru plaid, a white strappy long Swarovski crystal mesh dress, and a mini dress in black tulle with silver sequins. The precise tailoring dominates were the primary broad shoulder, and slim waist heritage now look cut so briefly that it becomes this collection’s contours.
These clean tailoring lines are a tribute to the heritage of masterful cuts focusing on the broad shoulders that is a defining character of Balenciaga then and now.
Gvasalia intends to change the vernacular of haute couture by expanding the genre’s reach via a new sartorial vocabulary.
Several outfits veer towards engaging with streetwear, although that classification has been so overused that its precise meaning is a bit aloof. Incorporating elements like denim into haute couture or even say a tailored swing neck technical canvas parka or, for that matter, a padded hoodie in heather grey cashmere with BB logo embroidery paired obviously with indigo washed Japanese denim jeans,
Extending the knowledge and appreciation of couture to this young generation means at the base having a vocabulary that is familiar to the language commonly used by these kids, at least the sartorial language.
Here a hand-knit sweater in a metallic chain, a t-shirt in silk jersey, and loose-fit indigo wash selvage Japanese denim pants carry the number 34 inscribed on small white cardboard held by the model. Or, for that matter, the red/black tailored tracksuit with BB logo in technical fabric worn with tailored pants also in technical fabrics.
A constant reminder of the Balenciaga history is ever-present, but nothing says nostalgia.
The large hats like the domed hat in black lacquer by Philip Treacy give the black shantung silk embroidered faux fur coat crafted by Maison Lemarié look inspired directly from the archives hints at emotion from the past. However, the colorful and oversized volume coats introduce the sculptural dimensions to these coats like the yellow or bubblegum pink bathrobe coat knifed leather with silk-cashmere fleece lining or the black opera coat in satin faille.
The structured gown in pink floral embroidered by Maison Lesage in ivory silk is a unique flare long sheath dress encompassing both the past and the future. Another great archive-inspired look is the trompe l’oeil embroidered silver silk jacquard dress and black tailored pants.
“Couture is above trends, fashion, and industrial dressmaking. It is a timeless and pure expression of craft and the architecture of silhouette that gives a wearer the strongest notion of elegance and sophistication,” Gvasalia emphasized above all the value that couture instills.
At their best, these Balenciaga’s couture clothes still serve their primary function as mediators with the body as their fluid silhouettes still center in this collection around the waist. The clothes radiate outward and upward from this waistline. A tight cross-body buttoning open v-neckline denim jacket and a pair of cigarette denim jeans or a navy waist jacket and pants in barathea wool with trompe l’oeil shirt cuffs and knit tank top reflect this upward movement.
Just nine years ago, in July 2012, a Belgian designer came to Paris to jolt the city and fashion with the excitement of his debut haute couture for Dior. Then, Raf Simons cast a new way of seeing the Dior silhouettes mixing elaborate embroidered strapless corset short dress with black tailored pants that ushered a new era and temperament at Dior. That Fall 2012 haute couture collection fostered a change in how the public and consumers view Dior.
No doubt, this Fall 2021 haute couture by Demna Gvasalia will indeed consolidate his aesthetic setting at Balenciaga. The brand now immerses with one ethos flowing at all levels of the brand, from the sneakers to the haute couture, a satin swing back hoodie, or a single breast v-shaped jacket increased black chintzed linen.
Hopefully, the fashion conversations will return to focus on clothes, but clothes intertwined with a sense of deep-rooted history, clothes that weigh something in fabrics and a narrative, and physical clothes not that generic fashion.