It’s rare for subcultures such as streetwear, goth, skater, and metalhead to be mentioned in the same breath as the traditional, ultra-luxurious world of haute couture. But in the notes Balenciaga sent to the press following its 53rd couture show, they were mentioned immediately in the second sentence.

If this was the majority of couture brands, I'd have thought they made a typo, however, this is Balenciaga.

Since reviving Balenciaga’s couture business in 2021, creative director Demna Gvasalia has consistently brought the unexpected to the couture runway, from bespoke grey hoodies to Kim Kardashian. And this season, the designer looked at the subcultures he describes as being important influences on his fashion vocabulary.

Icons of subcultural dress such as MA-1 bomber jackets, a Kurt Cobain-esque flannel shirt, and hand-painted tops with punk-adjacent graphics were all featured in the show, made with couture-level craftsmanship (the flannel shirt, for example, is crafted using silk tuffetage embroidery). 

These pieces of luxury-fied everyday wear were contrasted by headwear that is, in Gvasalia’s own words, “extravagant and at times eccentric.” 

Huge headpieces, many of which were made from frozen-in-resin T-shirts in collaboration with the artist Ni Hao, obscured the majority of the model’s faces, as did butterfly-shaped veils meticulously hand-embroidered by artist Yumi Okita.

It wasn’t until halfway through the 39-look collection that a dress was presented (an unconventionally long time to wait for a haute couture show), however, the dressmaking didn’t disappoint. 

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The experimental approaches to dressmaking included plastic bags melted down and turned into a white column dress, some of the prints from the original plastic bags still on show (the upcycled dress is reminiscent of the cling-wrap dress Alexander McQueen made early in his career).

There was also a dress made with a single piece of leather held with a giant safety pin, a bustier dress crafted from faux fur, and a full-length dress crafted from Balenciaga-branded belts.

The best of the dressmaking was left for the finale, however. Made from 47 meters of fabric, the final look is made of nylon that mimics gazar, an ultra-fine fabric that can no longer be made to the standards of when founder Cristóbal Balenciaga was helming the brand.

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The final dress takes an estimated 30 minutes to create — with the couture team draping, stapling, and sculpting the fabric directly on the model moments before the show — and can only be worn once (it was dissolved after the show, a process that takes around 30 seconds).

Plus, the huge wedding dress is entirely black. This color choice was the final non-traditional act of rebellion in Demna’s fourth couture show. 

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