Paris Fashion Week was eventful to say the least. Hedi Slimane showed his debut collection with a now-accentless Celine, pushing skinny suits and flashy dresses and causing many fans and critics to mourn Phoebe Philo’s legacy in the process. The designer turnaround opened up bigger questions about the extent to which a new creative director should continue a story not started by them — in this case, Philo’s Céline, which was designed earnestly with women in mind.
In that context, with a Balenciaga show looming, Demna Gvasalia’s anticipated high-fashion meme-ry and luxury trolling seemed like a lot to contend with. Sometimes all that’s wanted from a big show is to see some nice clothes.
Thankfully, that’s what we got. Supported by a hallucinatory stage treatment by Canadian artist Jon Rafman, it was as if someone had told Gvasalia to dial it down, and that perhaps high-fashion Crocs don’t really need to exist just because they can. Rather, the key codes as established by brand founder Cristóbal Balenciaga — slightly off-key shapes, ultra-modern design, and impeccable tailoring — made a triumphant return to the runway.
Still, even if nothing here was fully meme-worthy, at moments Gvasalia’s tongue remained lodged firmly in his cheek, as we’ll see below.
Here are the four key menswear pieces from Balenciaga SS19.
This red tailoring moment
We had an inkling that suits were going to be making a comeback, as the luxury pendulum starts its swing away from streetwear and consumers make peace with the idea that $1,250 hoodies (nice as they are) don’t have to be the beginning and end of designer fashion.
Here, Balenciaga has crafted a perfectly tailored suit (fight me in the comments in you disagree), with just the right amount of straight lines going down the arms, subtle draping at the waist, straight pants, square shoulders, smart lapels, and a cheeky Balenciaga tag popping off the left shoulder.
It’s timeless but of its time. And if you find the red a bit loud, the suit also appeared in black and white.
This shirt that will give you a six-pack
This seems like a pretty ordinary (if nicely made) piece of shirting at a first glance, but there’s actually a lot going on. Let’s look at the details.
It’s a thick black fabric with a tonal, interlocking Balenciaga “B” logo (so a deviation from this) at the chest, branded buttons, and long oversized sleeves. On the back, there is a series of anatomical diagrams of abdominal muscles with instructions for exercises such as bicycle kicks, flutter kicks, leg raises, and side planks.
Exercise manuals — bland, ugly, pseudo-relevant yet obsolete in the online age — fit easily with Gvasalia’s penchant for the mundane. This is also essentially a more subtle version of a similar shirt from the same collection featuring black-and-white exercise photography printed all over.
This intimidating leather jacket
It’s more or less a given that every designer will make a leather jacket in their lifetime. It’s just too timeless an item to avoid, and each creative will have their own take on it.
Originally utilized as a symbol of rebellion and defiance (Marlon Brando’s ’fit in The Wild Ones was a pivotal menswear movement), leather jackets have been reinterpreted by designers ad nauseam. There were archival Rick Owens pieces with slim waists and taupe-dyed leather, all-white versions by COMME des GARÇONS, and there has even been a version made in transparent leather by Boris Bidjan Saberi.
Here, Balenciaga has bought the leather jacket back to its outlier roots, shedding any Slimane-esque “cool kid” connotations by adding monstrously broad shoulders and exaggerated crisscross stitching that extends past the sleeve down toward the floor. This is not a garment for a “rock star” or Justin Bieber-type celebrity. It’s for a true rebel and a proud outcast — this jacket looks like it could beat me in a fight.
As with Balenciaga’s SS18 leather jacket, which featured graffiti-style branding, all the key elements of a great leather jacket are present: a soft leather waist belt, firm button lapels, and shiny metallic hardware.
This Comic Sans-style accessory
Comic Sans MS is the joke of the typography world. Released in 1994, it has been referred to as “the best font in the world” (by its own designer, at least) but is widely loathed and derided by graphic designers.
The sans serif script is so basic, so devoid of any artistic merit, that when the font is applied to the word “Balenciaga,” the irony is overwhelming — and that’s the point.
Menswear was spared the full Microsoft WordArt-style assault this season, with Gvasalia saving the real Comic Sans MS for womenswear pieces decked out in a melee of fonts. But there was one little style quirk in the Comic Sans ballpark, worn here as a “Balenciaga” pendant on a chain paired with a pink ribbed tank top. The font used isn’t exactly Comic Sans, but it is still trashy, funny, and breathes just a bit of what Gvasalia does best — highlighting fashion’s capacity to poke fun at itself — into a sincere and earnest collection.
Next, here’s a look at the latest collaboration between Moncler and Palm Angels.