After nearly 18 months at the artistic helm of Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia's SS18 collection split critics and consumers alike. It's a trend that the Georgian-born designer cultivated at Vetements and continued with his FW16 debut for Balenciaga. From the front row of Demna's first show, Gucci designer Alessandro Michele commented: “I like that he’s in search of a different kind of beauty," and it was true, he was.
More than just championing a different aesthetic, Gvasalia rumbled the infrastructure of the entire industry, blurring lines of irony and leaving his signature penchant for internet culture firmly imprinted on the classically-revered house.
With the Triple S embodying the trend for chunky, "ugly" dad trainers, Balenciaga has been arguably the most hyped brand of the past six months, superseding Gucci by a thread. We hooked up with various industry heads to see what they made of SS18, where they think the brand will go in the next six months and what to make of the platform Crocs, a brazen design move that has since been called "immensely frustrating".
Harry Fisher is the senior buyer at Machine-A/SHOWstudio. Located in London's Soho district, Machine-A is a contemporary fashion space carrying expertly curated brands such as Raf Simons, Martine Rose, Maison Margiela and is backed by photographer Nick Knight.
Jessica Bumpus is a freelance fashion journalist who writes for The Week Fashion, Nowfashion and Hunger as well as speaking at various industry panels
Finally, Alec Leach is the Digital Fashion Editor at Highsnobiety.
What were you expecting from the Balenciaga show this season?
Eugene Rabkin: I was expecting the same "let's-put-logos-on-everything" approach that Gvasalia has been favoring in lieu of real design. And we got some of that, but not too much, actually.
Jessica Bumpus: To be a talking point, as ever; both a continuation and a development of the aesthetic it has coined.
Harry Fisher: Its hard to say. If you expect to see the same silhouettes and styles every season then something is wrong.
Alec Leach: I was expecting Demna to have some clickbait gimmicks up his sleeve, as usual. The antics are entertaining to watch, though, so I'm not mad.
How do you think Gvasalia's aesthetic compares to Balenciaga's previous directors, and is it an appropriate interpretation of Cristobal's original work?
ER: To compare Gvasalia to Cristobal Balenciaga is a stupendous joke. Neither could he hold a handle to Nicolas Ghesquire, who is a real designer. Gvasalia is maybe on par with Wang, but that's not really a compliment.
JB: I’m not sure that it entirely matters whether it is or isn’t “appropriate” to the original work of Cristobal – the essence of Balenciaga has always been about forward-thinking, and that’s exactly what Demna has done, reconfigured the fashion system. And ultimately fashion is about tapping into zeitgeist and creating something new that people want. He does this.
HF: I think that Gvasalia’s aesthetic is not arguably similar to that of previous directors. Balenciaga is following a necessary path that is keeping the brand extremely relevant and yet still appreciated.
AL: That's not really the point. Designers only need to pay lip service to the house's "legacy" — their bosses just want the brand to be hashtag-relevant, and at the end of the day, shoppers don't care about history. All the big houses still rely on the same old products to pay the bills — Balenciaga is still selling those awful Arena hi-tops in loads of colorways, for example.
Do you think Balenciaga is perhaps taking the ‘ugly’ chic look too far?
ER: Gvasalia will take it as far as his corporate bosses will allow him. As long as Balenciaga makes money, I don't think we will see it leveling off. Besides, it seems to jive with what young people want, the kind of fake-ugly stuff they can pull off. I already lost count of attractive young women I know who have lately shaved their heads.
JB: I don't think it is 'ugly chic' — it's what people wear, real clothes, and that's why it's so successful.
HF: Looking at the collection the word ‘ugly’ does not enter my mind. I think the collection is elegant, and shows a really interesting progression from the previous seasons.
AL: Fashion would be a really boring place if designers just stuck to ~conventional beauty~ so nah, all good. I could have really done without the Crocs, though.
Do you think Balenciaga will be able to sustain the hype surrounding it in the next 12 months?
ER: In the next 12 months, possibly. In the next five years - absolutely not. What's happening now with Balenciaga is simply another Emperor's New Clothes moment. Everyone is in on the cynical joke that Gvasalia is performing. But, really it's the same status anxiety on the part of his supposedly knowing fashion hipster consumer as it is for the rich housewife. The dynamic is the same, with the designer dictating the insecure consumer what they need to buy, only they buy exactly because they want to show others that they "get it." Being in on the joke is the new status symbol.
JB: You only have to look on the street and see just how many people are wearing Balenciaga right now. It’s become cult. If you look at Gucci, we still aren’t tired of that proposition – fashion people might be, but consumers aren’t and that’s what matters ultimately. If something works, why change it?
HF: Hype will come and go, and constant exposure for a brand is not necessarily positive. It can cause saturation and a bored consumer. So maybe the brand are moving away from hype.
AL: So long as he keeps pulling off these ridiculous runway stunts, then probably. Demna's real challenge will be translating the antics into commercial bangers — bags, sunglasses, shoes, that kinda thing. Obviously the hype kids threw their wallets at the Triple S as soon as it dropped, but that's a pretty small demographic for a big luxury house. If Instagram is anything to go by, Balenciaga has been selling shit loads of basic hoodies, so he's probably onto a winner there.
In a word, what was your opinion on the platform Crocs?
Now check out how we styled Balenciaga’s #Officecore FW17 collection.