Balenciaga joins other fashion houses in showing support for Ukraine during Paris Fashion Week.
Balenciaga creative director Demna utilised his platform to pay respect to Ukrainians in a dramatic display that created a deep feeling of uneasiness about the future, at one of Paris Fashion Week’s most anticipated collection revealings. The humanitarian crisis in eastern Europe, where more than 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled their nation, hits close to home for the designer.
“The war in Ukraine has triggered the pain of a past trauma I have carried in me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my home country,” wrote the designer, who was one of 250,000 Georgians forced from their homes by Abkhazian separatists during his country’s civil war, crossing the Caucasus Mountains with his family as a 12-year-old.
A note put on each of the 525 seats, along with a T-shirt in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, read “fashion week feels like some kind of absurdity,” but cancelling the show would have meant “surrendering to the evil that has already hurt me so much for almost 30 years.”
The Balenciaga collection and show were dedicated to “the victory of love and peace”. “This is why working on this show this week was so incredibly hard for me. Because in a time like this, fashion loses its relevance and its actual right to exist, Demna explained.
The show itself included men and women trudging through fake snow with their heads bowed against the wind. They carried their belongings in sacks, shivering in flimsy garments. The flimsy layers will cost a fortune, and the models sported thigh-high spike-heeled boots. However, in a week when over 1 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes, the allusion to the Balenciaga runway was obvious.
It was unsettling to see, and it came dangerously close to utilising a humanitarian issue as a form of aesthetic. For many in the crowd, though, it was also a humane and compelling display of empathy, a sentiment rarely seen on the catwalk.
The designer delivered a poem in Ukrainian by famed poet Oleksandr Oles in a poignant moment during the show. Demna wanted its underlying message of strength to be heard by those who could understand it, so no translation was given. The show also finished with all-yellow and all-blue looks.
Demna’s presentation wasn’t the first time he had highlighted the conflict in Ukraine. Balenciaga uploaded an image of Ukraine’s flag on its Instagram account last week, stating that information on how to contribute to relief efforts will be shared across the company’s channels.
The label would also be providing resources for verified information, according to the post. Since then, Balenciaga has removed that image from its grid and replaced it with images from the show. Balenciaga’s Instagram highlights section still includes a link to contribute to the World Food Programme.
Overall, the presentation accomplished what the designer excels at: forcing the audience to ask questions, both of themselves and of the system, perhaps implying that Demna’s Balenciaga reflects the world, and what we see gazing back at us is often uncomfortable. Nonetheless, the context, as part of a display for a luxury goods house is destined to strike an off-key note for some spectators.
Watch the full Balenciaga show below.