PARIS, France — Delving into the Balenciaga archives, Demna Gvasalia came across a man's coat missing one sleeve. Apparently it was intended for Cristobal himself but he'd never got round to that last detail. Sleeves were always his bete noire. "We needed to finish the coat," said Gvasalia. The symbolism was inescapable.
His respect for Cristobal Balenciaga, to many minds the greatest fashion designer of all time, is one reason why Gvasalia’s appointment at the house (this was his first men’s outing and, in fact, Balenciaga's first-ever men’s show) is so promising. The women’s show in March was a great start, but it was able to trade off an awe-inspiring legacy. Balenciaga’s presence on the men’s stage is a lot more Johnny-come-lately, a kind of bolt-on to the Ghesquiere years. So it was a bold move on Gvasalia’s part to project what he imagined the male equivalent of Balenciaga’s original haute couture would be. It exists already, in men’s bespoke tailoring, but that wasn’t precisely what Gvasalia had in mind.
That much was obvious from the first look, Cristobal’s own coat, now finished. David Byrne’s famous “big suit” from the Talking Heads live movie Stop Making Sense inevitably came to mind in the huge, flat shape and size of the jacket. Underneath, there were bermudas, so fitted there was a thigh gap, the physical curiosity that has often been used as a stick to beat the fashion industry over anorexic female models. Those two pieces defined the ebb and flow of the rest of the show: challengingly wide, provocatively narrow, both shown with theatrical footwear that created its own peculiar subtext.
It was a bold move on Gvasalia’s part to project what he imagined the male equivalent of Balenciaga’s original haute couture would be.
Neither option was particularly kind to the average male form, except, significantly, when Gvasalia edited the broad-shouldered silhouette into a military bomber or an MA-1 jacket. Claude Montana defined the 1980s with this linebacker shape. It has, until now, resisted reanimation (though Simon Jacquemus, sitting in the front row, might have something to say about that). Fact remains, Gvesalia kicked it into touch today with those sportier looks. They saved him in the moment.
Otherwise, his fascination with the rituals of couture (or bespoke, for that matter) was more interesting conceptually than in the execution. Looking for ceremonial fabrics, he ended up with the Vatican’s suppliers who produced silk brocades in papal purple and cardinal red for him. Balenciaga himself was devotedly Catholic, praying a couple of times a day in a chapel local to his couture house, always seeking spiritual transcendence in his search for that pesky perfect sleeve. Gvasalia insisted the Catholic connection was entirely coincidental. But he chose to show his first men’s collection for Balenciaga on the rooftop of the most famous Catholic school in Paris. And God smiled. After weeks of cold and wet, the sun blazed down.
The incongruity of papal purple brocades in bright, broad daylight seemed like the consummate Gvasalia finishing touch. "Things happen for me," he said with a satisfied shrug.