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Where the runway meets the street

Balenciaga’s fashion shows, at least under the creative reigns of internet-savvy Demna Gvasalia, are expected to feature some kind of meme-able item that’s sent out to break the internet, i.e. the Crocs from SS18. However, Demna’s FW18 show was notable for its lack of garish, headline-grabbing pieces. That’s not to say there weren’t some out-of-this-world spectacles, but it felt like Balenciaga was at the forefront of this collection, and not the pseudo-trolling of internet-savvy Gvasalia.

When speaking to The Business of Fashion, Gvasalia described the liberating effect of combining his men’s and women’s shows into one. “Now I only do two shows a year, I can make mountains.” Turns out, he was speaking literally.

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The main spectacle of the show (not including the nine-garments-in-one outerwear) was the enormous graffiti’d mountain in the middle of the runway. Balenciaga’s mountain was sprayed with optimistic messages such as “you are the world,” “no borders” and “power of dreams,” written in the same graffiti styles as the handbags and rucksacks released at the end of last year.

David McNew / Getty Images

The setting appeared to be modelled on an IRL “mountain” known as Salvation Mountain, a man-made ‘visionary environment’ in the Colarado desert of California. Made from garbage, adobe (bricks made from earth), straw and half a million gallons of latex paint, Salvation Mountain marks the entrance to off-the-grid community of Slab City, where migrants move to live off-the-grid during the winter months, and some, about 150, live there permanently.

David McNew / Getty Images

While the messages from Salvation mountain are mostly derived from bible verses and Balenciaga’s features a telephone hotline, they share the same feeling of hope for the future. This optimistic sentiment, which was expressed alongside a partnership with the World Food Programme (including a $50,000 donation), perhaps signifies a more altruistic business model for the fashion industry.

As for Gvasalia, the creative director spoke to The Guardian backstage, saying “I am tired of making prints for the sake of prints.” That’s is a big statement for someone who’s career has arguably hinged around an ability to challenge what constitutes as “fashionable.”

Perhaps, with this mountain, we are approaching the end of the meme-Demna cycle and phasing into  wholesome-Demna. This could bring a vision of Balenciaga (and perhaps Vetements too) that can still engage the zeitgeist with ambitions like ending world hunger, instead of the reaching for the  low-hanging fruit of internet memes and ironic bad taste.

For more information about how to visit Salvation Mountain, you can visit the official website, and for more on Balenciaga’s latest collection, check out how social media reacted here.

  • Main & Featured image: David McNew / Getty Images
Words by Max Grobe
Associate Fashion Editor
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