A constellation of fashion luminaries and celebrities made their presence felt at Paris Fashion Week. Balenciaga unveiled its Summer 24 collection on October 1 against a backdrop of sweeping red velvet curtains — expectations of something theatrical were already high before the runway began.
In one of the season’s most anticipated shows, the mise-en-scène crafted by Balenciaga’s maverick creative director Demna provided perhaps the most interesting runway lineup this week in Paris, casting friends, family members and colleagues alongside models.
Narrated by French actress Isabelle Huppert, a Balenciaga ambassador, the director’s own mother, Ella, started the show. A veritable lineup of characters and the creative director’s friends followed, including the likes of famed fashion critic Cathy Horyn, fashionista and journalist Diane Pernet, iconic performance artist and model Amanda Lepore, as well as a personal trainer, skaters and students. Chinese talents on the runway included actor Liu Haoran, Shanghai influencer Wang Diwen and supermodel Liu Wen.
Demna’s intricately personal vision
Fashion has always been a journey for Demna, a profound exploration of self. Over the past year, trials, tribulation and controversies have prompted a sort of personal metamorphosis.
This season, the designer returned to close friends and core values, expressed on the runway to the calming tone of Huppert’s voice reciting instructions on how to make a tailored jacket from the La Veste Tailleur Homme (The Men’s Suit Jacket) manual alongside a soundscape orchestrated by long-time brand collaborator, composer Bfrnd.
The unconventional casting was also personal. An array of Demna’s muses and mentors, including Linda Loppa, his ex-lecturer at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, took to the stage in an expression of the designer’s community.
It’s a perspective on fashion that is ever-evolving. Backstage, the designer told the media that he wanted to subvert the codes of dressing luxuriously or looking typically wealthy or powerful.
“I don’t care much about luxury. I don’t want to give people a proposition to look like they’re rich or successful. Because ‘luxury’ is top down, and what is often seen as quite provocative about me is — I do bottom up,” he is quoted as saying in a press release.
His steadfast vision has divided the industry, yet earned Balenciaga a whole new generation of loyal fans. While Demna’s vision harnesses the paradoxical, it also finds equilibrium within dichotomies and coherence in discord.
Blending avant-garde aesthetics with functionality
But what of the clothing? After a year of controversies, many in the fashion world were wondering what kind of mood and vision Demna wanted to project. He paid homage to classic silhouettes, notably the art of deconstruction, in this collection.
It featured the symbolic irony he’s known for, like European grocery store totes and terry cloth bathrobes. The show was an orchestrated collision of futurism, nostalgia and questioning, a dramatic symphony in chapters that championed his high-low aesthetic in stages, from streetwear to draped evening gowns in florals and sumptuous velvet.
The collection meticulously embraced “bottom-up” details. Ordinary attire, including oversized hoodies, denim jeans, robes, and iconic motocross biker jackets, retained their status as canvases for Demna’s artistry. Again the Balenciaga garments communicated a dialogue of subculture and subverting luxury ideals in a symbiotic evolution of fabric and form.
Adding a whimsical touch to the collection were passport-inspired wallets, high-heeled shoes, and derby shoe-inspired handheld bags — testament to this designer’s astute command of the quirky and the absurd. Equally compelling was the infusion of ungendered creations, reflecting the omnipresence of fluidity in modern fashion.
The designer’s signature silhouettes — oversized, almost armor-like shoulders and long layers of jackets and leather coats — were testaments to Balenciaga’s dedication to playfulness with volume. Both the exaggerated silhouettes as well as the flowing lines and cascading layers conveyed grace and flexibility.
Creativity, craftsmanship and sustainability
The show featured several deconstructed and rejuvenated vintage garments, integrating Balenciaga’s signature tailoring, including a new gown crafted by combining and layering seven wedding dresses made pre-2000. This was about showcasing Demna’s commitment to sustainable innovation.
Other innovations included the use of noteworthy materials, such as a leather alternative known as Lunaform (plastic-free and made from fermented nanocellulose), which appeared on the runway in the form of a floor-length bathrobe-style coat and was uniquely developed for Balenciaga. The materials align with Kering Group‘s core sustainable values.
Balenciaga introduced a new oversized Cargo sneaker made from ultra-fine fiber and mesh variants. With just 1,000 pairs available, the shoes are set to become much-coveted items. It’s through these types of drops that Balenciaga deftly navigates the evolving demands of the contemporary consumer. According to a 2023 survey of mid- to high-end fashion consumers by Boston Consulting Group, today’s lifestyles are diversifying rapidly, with a discernible shift towards blending sporty leisure and commuter styles.
Ultimately, Demna underscored his role as a creative visionary in the industry, admitting that “fashion is a complex job.” Returning to community and his roots, Demna’s Summer 24 collection is about navigating the complexities of our uncertain times. His Balenciaga has impacted fashion in a profound way, and in a way redefined the boundaries of style and aestheticism.
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