To understand the philosophy of Balenciaga’s artistic director, Demna Gvasalia – the coolest designer in fashion right now – one should probably start by looking at the seating at his shows.
Since taking over the historic fashion house a year-and-a-half ago, Gvasalia has seated the industry’s most expensively encased bottoms not on the velvet banquettes of old but on tatty black plastic office chairs.
At Wednesday’s menswear show in Paris, those creaking chairs took pride of place in a venue that had all the interior design ambitions of a high street accountancy firm: a wilfully mundane grey box room resplendent with office blinds and speckled corporate carpet.
Gvasalia, who is also head designer for Vetements, has quickly become one of fashion’s most influential names, creating a raft of cult hits and inspiring thousands of copies. If you’ve noticed a rash of gothic script running down the arms of long-sleeved T-shirts or an abundance of oversized camel-coloured mackintoshes on the high street, Gvasalia is the source.
Gvasalia specialises in making “normal” clothes feel unexpected – one of his biggest hits last season was an extravagant padded Uniqlo-style coat which slips off the shoulders like a hotel bathrobe – and Wednesday’s menswear collection was no different. It was inspired by office workers, he said backstage. “We worked around business attire and formal clothing. But we wanted to take away the rigidity and the coldness of the suit – that’s why there were a lot of elements of padding and comfort, being warm and cosy,” he said.
At times, the look was pointedly based in reality. Business suits were styled with gym-appropriate trainers, exactly the kind of awkward, accidental outfit that so many of us adopt on our commutes. There were leather versions of tote overflow bags, too, which seem a likely hit among Gvasalia’s fans, who enjoy the irony of buying an elevated version of an everyday item – and who can afford the four zeros required to buy into the joke.
At times, Gvasalia played with the proportions of clothes in surprising ways, a trademark that recalls the work of the house’s eponymous founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga, who pioneered silhouettes such as the cocoon. In the modern incarnation some models – many of whom had the apologetic gait and wire-rimmed glasses of the stereotypical IT manager – wore blousons that gave them the outline of puffed-up pigeons. Others wore suit trousers cut dangerously low, displaying more stomach than most office workers would prefer to reveal, particularly after a big Pret lunch.
Backstage, the friendly, unassuming 35-year-old Georgian wore a purple hoodie on which a Balenciaga logo was reimagined in cheerful red and white graphics. The hoodie had the appearance of a freebie from a corporate team-building weekend – and it is likely to be the label’s next cult hit. It transpired that the logo was actually modelled after that used by US politician Bernie Sanders for his campaign to be the Democratic presidential nominee.
While rumours swirl that some of fashion’s biggest power players will be dressing Melania Trump for her husband’s inauguration as US president on Friday, it was heartening to see that the man so many of them are looking to for inspiration is instead “feeling the Bern”.
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