Balenciaga and Céline Bring Paris to Life
Oh happy day!
Paris was buzzing yesterday. With Balenciaga and Céline’s interpretations of The Future on tap to define Sunday, you got to see two very finite but disparate schools of consumerism on display. Balenciaga is now being designed by Demna Gvasalia of Vetements. The critical response to his inaugural collection has been stunning — Vogue called it spectacular in a headline and Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times said it was, “concise in effect.”
I wasn’t there so I can’t actually know what the energy in the room was like, but I would guess that the hope, the imminent delight, the anticipation to see, understand and be a part of what is next was palpable. And what a feat it is that one should not disappoint those expectations! Vetements has been a case study in one school of consumerism because they’re not really selling clothes. They’re selling an energy, an attitude, the ability to be cool. With that brand, the Gvasalia brothers and their collective have responded to what people are actually wearing as opposed to trying to dictate what they should wear.
In the world of content, we’d call that writing for SEO — which doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you can bring genuine perspective and a level of intelligence to your story.
If the fear was that Gvasalia would turn Balenciaga into the laughing stock of the couture houses of yore, he was actually pretty respectful of the house’s heritage. And even, too, the former designers. I see a little bit of Alexander Wang in the opening suits — sure they’re more pelvic now (that’s Gvasalia under the influence of Martin Margiela) — and the sunglass-chains worn over knit skirt sets with cocoon shoulders on the sweaters.
There’s a tinge of Nicolas Ghesquière to the windbreakers of looks 5 and 6 — done the Vetements way to display branding where it counts. And the off the shoulder puffers, zip ups and leather jackets? That’s a Cristóbal Balenciaga staple rendered in the fabrics of today. It will be important to watch how this moment evolves: whether following the zeitgeist-y thrill of what defines streetwear right now, the next nuance can be scooped and clobbered as swiftly.
So on the one hand we’re confronted with the rather distracting notion that we don’t actually buy clothes — we buy the perspective stitched into the clothes. But from another vantage point, where Phoebe Philo is very much not becoming the creative director of Alaïa, we are smacked over the head with luxury. A sort of middle finger up to the former concept as if to say, Everything in your life might feel off: your kid won’t get up for school, your husband doesn’t care that you’re working 13-hour days and your boss is an asshole. At least when you get hold of your sweater, though, the very soft and expensive knit that is cloaking your upper body reminds you that you respect yourself. Because that’s what wearing Céline does. It indicates an appreciation for quality in the same way that Loro Piana or Brunello Cucinelli might, but it weaves a much more pointed opinion into there, too.
Which, of course, is that you’re busy, yes, but that you still deserve the best.
So have the best.
This fall collection was pared back referentially. Skinny in ethos, if you will. It didn’t feel particularly new or groundbreaking — nearly every dress was shown over a pair of pants. There were leggings under some of them. There were sandals on a fall runway and at least two shoes that walked have been in stores for the last couple of seasons. So instinctively you wonder: is Philo tired, tapping out? Haven’t we seen this all before? But through that emerges a statement. At the bottom line, beyond the bells and references, Céline is about accommodating the vicissitudes of a woman’s life and these are, no question, clothes that she could live in. Sometimes there’s value in forgetting the complicated implications and boiling it down to nothing more, nothing less than exactly what you want to wear.
Photographs via Vogue Runway.