Alexander Wang brought some New York club attitude to his Balenciaga show at Paris fashion week on Wednesday night. Models wearing dramatic, floor-sweeping coats and mirrored sunglasses strode across a geometric glass catwalk suspended over swirling dry ice. It was a step change in atmosphere from the rarefied morning slot that Balenciaga has previously occupied, suggesting that, after four seasons in charge, Wang – who splits his time between his own label in New York and Balenciaga in Paris – is now fully confident in the direction he is driving the historic French house.
Backstage, the excitable designer declared the collection to be about “opulence” before he was swamped with congratulations from Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, their baby North and assorted bodyguards.
Wang’s Balenciaga represents a successful marriage between the label’s dramatic archive cuts and his own, more easygoing aesthetic. Embellishment and embroidery were used in a less precious way – overblown diamond-shaped lattice pockets added a sportswear edge to floor-length cream coats.
Sporty tops – a Wang favourite – were given the Balenciaga treatment in delicate lilac shades with shimmering beads and jersey-ribbed collars. String-vest-style skirts that sat below the knee were both sporty and luxurious. Mirrored sunglasses were secured to models’ heads like ski goggles using heavily beaded straps. Decadent utilitarianism was the show’s paradoxical theme.
Earlier in the day, an act of quiet rebellion set the agenda. At the finale of the Dries van Noten, rather than strutting backstage in a flurry of flashbulbs, the models sat down and lolled about on the tufted, moss-coloured catwalk. Amid the ritualised world of fashion weeks, this end scene – which intentionally recalled Millais’ Ophelia painting – was remarkable enough to set a dreamy tone.
Backstage, the Belgian designer explained that he had been inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “So it was about a girl who loves festivals – Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Burning Man. She loves nature; she doesn’t follow the rules, so she puts on really precious fabrics in whatever way she wants.”
This was a collection with fabric, print and textiles at its heart. Van Noten that this, rather than some confected trend, had been his focus. “For me it is not really a collection,” he said. “It’s just a lot of nice clothes in very nice fabrics.”
Next summer those nice clothes will include silk-striped bomber jackets, heavily beaded oversized easy tunics and dropped-crotch brocade trousers with folded, pannier-like pockets. Gold thread and patches of sequins added restrained sparkle to the easy shapes.
But Van Noten was wrong if he thought the collection was simply an ode to beautiful textiles. Silk brocade bermuda-style shorts worn with heavy wedge shoes and a multicoloured sequined T-shirt seemed in tune with the trends emerging from London and Milan and were a real highlight in this compelling collection.
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