In the weeks leading up to Balenciaga’s 52nd Haute Couture collection, the third for creative director Demna at the helm of the Maison, the incessant chatter that typically followed the brand quelled. But, it was in this silence that Demna found his strength.
Here, in Balenciaga’s Couture salon at 10 Avenue George V, the Georgian creative director found respite in sartorial perfection, putting his dedication to the craft of dressmaking—a quality he shared with Cristóbal himself, with the latter dubbed by Coco Chanel as the “only couturier in the truest sense of the word”—on display through a refined and austere lens.
Intermeshing Cristóbal Balenciaga’s codes with his own, Demna served a glamorous amalgam probably the closest we’ve seen to quintessential couture from the designer.
This clarified approach from Demna was teased when Balenciaga’s Fall/Winter 2023-2024 Haute Collection invitations were sent out, before being fully realised on the runway in Demna’s 59-piece collection.
Eschewing the viral distressed wallets and ratchet iPhone 3G invitations the brand has sent in the past, the brand delivered gold bracelets inspired by the pin cushion bracelets adorned by dressmakers in their ateliers.
The message was clear: rather than relying on the supernova power of celebrities as models on the runways, grandiose mud-laden or snowstorm-esque sets or even satirical garments like a purse disguised as a chip packet, Demna’s first and only priority was further exhibiting his craft as an innovative couturier.
As the show notes explained, the collection was a “tribute to pursuing perfection”, noting, “While true perfection is impossible, it is always in the mind of the couturier”.
Supplanting the image of an authentic, true couturier in our minds, Balenciaga continued the now-outdated tradition of having guests sit in reverent silence, the only sound being the wash of the garment on the carpet floor as models glided around the salon and opera singer Maria Callas. Stillness was the mode, and given Balenciaga’s recent controversy achieving this tranquillity and reprieve required a deft hand and self-restraint.
Opening the collection was Danielle Slavik, Balenciaga’s house model who worked with Cristóbal from 1964-1968, in a recreation of a black velvet dress Slavik originally wore for the house in 1966. The off-the-shoulder evening gown featured two jet-black lacquered rosettes that sat at the scapula and a string of pearls that paid homage to the styling of Balencaiga’s original gown.
The dress was beloved by both Slavik, with the model telling WWD in 2022 that it was her favourite in her entire modelling career, and Grace Kelly, with the late Princess of Monaco wearing the item to her 40th birthday.
Here, Demna’s vision became explicitly clear: Demna has found his raison d’être in the art of dressmaking, or bridging the gap between tradition, heritage, innovation and the future.
Suiting was a theme prominently explored, with slim-fitting tuxedos seen in the first half of the collection in both men’s and womenswear variations. Subverting the classic signatures of a night suit, Demna exaggerated proportions with protruding shoulders and structural necklines.
Interspersed with typical couture gowns, like the white feathered dress worn by Amber Valetta, Demna toyed with with jovial suits and coats in trompe l’oeil denim and faux-fur fabrics. A puffer jacket even made an appearance, proving that Demna was exercising caution regarding rebelling against the codes of haute couture.
The back half of the collection was a love letter to the innate elegance of a perfectly crafted dress. Resembling the crepe-draped dresses presented in Balenciaga’s 51st Haute Couture collection, Demna continued these silhouettes in glossy black cues and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes pink.
The collection’s pièce de résistance was a Joan of Arc-inspired byrnie dress. The billowing gown subverted the idea of a classic couture shape, instead utilising modern techniques by 3D printing the gown in galvanized resin and polished in chrome.
Without saying anything, Demna conveyed that clothing is his greatest armour and his reason for being.
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This story first appeared on GRAZIA International.