One in a series on the clothes that made waves at Paris Fashion Week.
PARIS — Bright white lights and silence — except for the sound of their own voices — greeted editors and retailers as they arrived for the debut of designer Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga. The walls of the room in this city's 15th arrondissement were padded with gray sound-proofing panels and the carpet was pristine white. A clean slate. Almost.
Gvasalia was not dismissing the history of Balenciaga — at least not the most valued fragments: its couture excellence, the distinctive silhouettes in which collars sat away from the neckline and dresses had a near-sculptural quality.
But he moved those ideas forward to the present, interpreting them for an audience that finds the idea of a birdlike model posed to exude haughty sangfroid off-putting. ("Why can't the models just smile," cry the multitudes. Because smiling isn't chic, dear.) His models were rather average-looking and a bit short — their face looked makeup-free. They wore bland spectacles. They walked; they did not glide.
Let's face facts: We are not living in an age of elegance. Gvasalia gave us high fashion and couture references wrapped in the idioms of our times.
Backstage after the show, Gvasalia, whose Vetement collective explores proportion and the irony of mass-market symbols and garb, explained that his goal for Balenciaga had been to explore the best techniques of structure and shape, but to do so in a way that made sense for customers who are accustomed to a certain informality in their attire and who often equate authenticity with a down-market sensibility.
The collection offered simply tailored jackets and dresses with a sculpted silhouette that emphasized the hips while minimizing the waist. The shoulders were broad and oversize but not overwhelming. He offered up sportswear — parkas, shearlings, trench coats — that were worn partially unzipped so that they sat back and away from the neck.
There were lush floral fabrics, some that glittered as if they were spun from gold. They were used to create easy dresses that flowed around the body and were paired with candy-cane-striped tights. There were jeweled shoes and eccentric sunglasses, too.
His was an auspicious debut because he offered up ideas about how silhouettes and proportions can alter how women look and feel in their clothes. But he also connected fashion's high-flying ideas with the realities of life. His coats were not precious. They looked as if they could take the onslaught of a winter ice storm. Those huge multi-colored bags — like very, very nice versions of the cheap nylon bags found in flea markets — could carry a woman's full-day supply of gym clothes, her laptop, chargers, lunch and even a yoga mat.
But mostly, it was the carriage of his models that spoke most eloquently about his vision. It was, he said, important to him that they not simply look good in the clothes but also liked the clothes they were wearing. They all moved differently: some with urgency, some with distracted confidence, others had more of a meandering gait. They moved like individuals, all with different lives and priorities. But all united by a love of fashion and a desire to be themselves.