The Balenciaga year |  Lifestyle News, The Indian Express


Demna Gvasalia and I meet in the metaverse, in a glass-walled conference room in an unnamed city. Although the buildings suggest Singapore passing by the Jetsons.

“It’s kind of trippy,” said the avatar otherwise known as Balenciaga’s creative director, materializing in the room. “What do I have on me? What kind of jacket? I bet it’s not oversized.

He wore a black warm-up jacket and a black t-shirt, with a silver chain around his neck, gold hoops on both ears, a black baseball cap, and a shadow at five o’clock. In other words, he looked a lot like the real-life designer, who usually wears all black, a baseball cap and hoops – although the hoodie might not have been as bulky as it could have been. wish it, and his skin had the timeless perfection of a cartoon, despite being 40 years old.

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My outfit, on the other hand, apparently left something to be desired.

“Have you chosen your avatar? Demna (as he is now officially known; no last name) asked. I admitted I had, but there were limited clothing options, most of which seemed straight from Talbots or Topshop. “You’re wearing a blue three-button polo shirt,” Demna said. And laughed. Then he waved his arms in front of his face several times as if he couldn’t believe they were there. “I have to get used to that,” he said.

In reality, Demna was in Paris, in the offices of Balenciaga where he spends a week a month. (The rest of the time he’s at home outside Zurich, with his husband, Loïck Gomez, their two Chihuahuas, Cookie and Chiquita, and his collection of Princess Diana china.) I was in Brooklyn.

And avatar me was interviewing him face-to-face in cyberspace, just hours after the Balenciaga Fall 2022 show was revealed on the brand’s website as a time trip to an imaginary 1990s Balenciaga show, shot on VHS tape, like an artifact from an alternate past.

demna gvasalia, balenciaga Fashion designer Demna Gvasalia at his home near Zurich, Switzerland. (Djamila Grossman for The New York Times)

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During the pandemic, fashion has been a lot about disruption and system change and a fresh start. But few designers have truly embraced the opportunity for creative destruction and reinvention quite like Demna.

Last year, right after creating a VR show experience as well as a game, “Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow”, Demna created a Balenciaga collection for “Fortnite”, the epic video game; dedicated a runway show to the notion of clones in which a model wore every outfit, including some “hacked” into sister brand Gucci (after Gucci “hacked” Balenciaga) by “stealing” (albeit with permission) his designs the most recognizable and reinterpret them; grabbed guests’ attention by turning a faux red carpet into a fashion show; and unveiled a Simpsons x Balenciaga cartoon about the transformative power of fashion, as evidenced by its effects on the residents of Springfield, who typically scoff at a French fashion house.

About it: He also reintroduced couture to Balenciaga after a 50-year absence, though he did it for both men and women, hosing down basic wardrobe staples – T-Shirts , jeans, bathrobes – with elegance and turning them into entrance clothes; went to the Met Gala for the first time, with Kim Kardashian; expanded the Balenciaga family to include Justin Bieber, Elliot Page and Isabelle Huppert; and (in his spare time) was the creative director of Kanye West’s stadium-sized “Donda” listening experiences in Atlanta and Chicago.

In doing so, it established Balenciaga as the brand most effectively channeling the complicated tension between technology and nostalgia, elitism and accessibility, that defined 2021. It is now the third-biggest brand in the luxury group Kering’s portfolio, after Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. , according to François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering.

The Georgian underground upstart from the former Soviet Union who had made a name for himself at Vetements, aggressively thumbing his nose at the establishment and all its pretensions, had suddenly become its prophet. There’s a reason why, when Facebook rebranded itself, the brand it tweeted about for fashion advice on what to wear in the metaverse was Balenciaga.

behind the mask

Even Demna, who says he is his own worst judge – “my therapist thinks so too” – acknowledged that this year was a turning point. “A new era,” he says. Pinault called it his “second chapter”.

The first chapter encompassed the five years after he took over Balenciaga, although the prelude involved a flight to Düsseldorf from Georgia with his family during that country’s civil war; a master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp; stints in the design teams of Maison Martin Margiela (his most formative influence) and Louis Vuitton; and, in 2014, founded Vetements with his brother, Guram, as a “design collective”.

In just one year, Vetements had captured enough of the fashion industry’s attention for Demna to land one of its most coveted awards, the Balenciaga design reins, a nomination that elicited screams of shock! horror! among critics who dismissed him as a streetwear designer who somehow snuck into Cristóbal’s temple.

At the start of the lockdown, when offices closed and everyone was sent home, Demna went into pajama-like funk. “I really wondered what it was for,” he said. Getting dressed brought it out.

“I basically had a fashion week at my house,” he said. “I’ve never worked so much on my personal look. Sometimes I did looks that I would never dare to wear normally: super metal or goth or something quite fitted, even if I never wear fitted clothes in life because I have problems with my body.

In doing all of this, he said, “The joy, the playfulness of fashion really made me realize how much I love fashion and how much I love my job. My mission is to giving people the best possible ingredients to create their own character and have fun with. That’s fashion. I can’t do anything better than that.

Elliot page, demna gvasalia, balenciaga FILE — Actor Elliot Page, official model of the show, in Balenciaga during the Balenciaga spring 2022 red carpet show in Paris. (Valerio Mezzanoti/The New York Times)

And it’s not just making clothes – clothes don’t change much from season to season – but social criticism. The Spring 2022 “Clones” collection commented on how influencers, fast fashion and sneakers everywhere have flattened self-expression. “Red Carpet”, for the summer of 2022, commented on celebrities and social networks. The ’90s collection for Fall 2022 was a commentary on nostalgia for a time when connection wasn’t technological in nature. The goal is to force people to question their own choices.

This is also the point of his friendship with West. The two men have known each other for six or seven years, but developed an intense text and WhatsApp relationship about two years ago, which culminated in the “Donda” shows.

“With Ye, I have something that I don’t really have with others, where anything is possible,” Demna said. “For me, talking to him is like stepping back in time to the 8-year-old me who doesn’t have all these barriers and filters. We spent about 2 1/2 hours talking about pimples. This kind conversations helps me grow as a designer because I’m like, ‘Yeah, why do we do it like that? Why buttons? Why wrap? I never thought of that before.

The whole platform

If last year’s ready-to-wear shows were a conceptual leap forward, couture was the aesthetic turning point. Demna used the oldest and most elite form of fashion to convey unassuming modernism, ending claims that products like Ikea high-heeled bags and Crocs stilettos were an easy, if not cheap, gimmick. (They’re kind of a gimmick, but a gimmick with a point that has to do with difficult notions of value and authenticity.) It showed he could create a pattern as well as observe one.

Couture also brought Demna to the Met Gala, the kind of celebrity-studded event he had previously avoided. Kardashian was her date, and they wore matching black from head to toe, so they both looked like shadows of themselves. While hers was a commentary on her ubiquity as a symbol of the social media age, a sort of silhouette cameo for the 21st century, hers was a disguise.

“I don’t believe fashion has to be different every time to be exciting,” Demna said. “I think if I work on an oversized jacket from season to season, it evolves and gets better. But as soon as I feel comfortable, I want to go somewhere else, and what gets me out of my comfort zone is going to public events. That’s why I wore the mask. I felt so uncomfortable having pictures of me that I didn’t like and could never get rid of.

The experience directly inspired the red carpet show, in part because it caused him to question the assumptions we make about celebrity and who qualifies. He loved that afterwards some of his otherwise unknown role models were treated with the same frenetic enthusiasm as ASAP Rocky.

Pinault believes Balenciaga is poised to be the next “megabrand”. It has already surpassed the billion euro mark in revenue, he said, and is approaching 2 billion. Cédric Charbit, the CEO of Balenciaga, called it “a platform where everything is possible”.

The challenge now, Demna said, is “to understand what we want it to become? How far do we want it to go?

How far do they want to go? In the metaverse, avatar Demna stared with gleaming eyes at the view through the false windows of the conference room. “Everywhere,” he said.

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