From a funeral-like opening to the absence of their iconic logo, Gvsalia and his Paris Fashion Week comeback was an intriguing apology.
November 2022 was the month Balenciaga, and consequently Demna Gvasalia, hit rock bottom. It was a scenario which was short of ideal; instead of soaring end-of-year sales for the festivities, the luxury fashion house faced a challenging December with a “7% decline in comparable fourth-quarter revenue”. But it wasn’t just sales which concerned the Spanish label; Balenciaga’s entire image was hanging from a thin thread. Empty stores, social media backlash and major boycotting made a comeback highly unlikely. Until the brand’s FW23 runway collection, that is.
Pre-scandal, Balenciaga had built itself a reputation for being one of the most innovative, thought-provoking and influential brands on the luxury spectrum, thanks to Gvasalia. They played with the advantage of a fashion trump card; anything that Balenciaga put out there would sell out in a matter of minutes, any garment, no matter how ludicrous, going virally unquestioned. They had to mess up bad to fall from the very top, but boy did they tumble down quickly.
Besides the formal apologies, Balenciaga has been laying low. There was no other way they could have gone about it, everything the brand put out there, or did, got torn apart in a matter of seconds – child abuse allegations were not a scandal anyone was about to let slide. Yesterday however, they made their official comeback during Paris fashion week with their FW23 collection.
The first thing to note about the runway was that, unlike previous editions, there was nothing about the venue which made it immediately identifiable as Balenciaga. It lingered on the minimalist side, something which is often more customary of brands such as Prada, with a cream backdrop and running lights serving as delimitations for the runway. Fresh slate, new looks, same brand.
If the show is an apology of sorts, it was certainly a strange one. The runway opened up with dark sombre suits, as if we were witnessing Balenciaga’s funeral parade. Although their couture was intriguing, the lack of shock factor we have all learnt to expect from Balenciaga left viewers hungry for more. As the collection rolled on, we come to realise we are witnessing a Balenciaga which is leaning towards its more classical origins, although it is hard to tell if that is fruit of the clothes themselves or the lack of a performative stage design. Dresses in floral patterns, glam coats and the occasional leather garment populate the runway, in a collection which is Gvasalia’s clearest attempt thus far at incorporating Cristobal Balenciaga’s traditional staples into his personal voice as creative director.
Admittedly, the music was also rather odd. Instead of the futuristic and experimental techno which Gavsalia’s Balenciaga often relies upon, we heard an almost church-choir-like guitar that merged into a jazzy piano tune. Perhaps referencing the brand’s more classical Spanish origins, or perhaps just wanting to shy away from the any kind of music which could be associated with the brand’s machiavelic rumours, it was an unlikely soundtrack for Gvasalia’s comeback.
There’s something else missing though; the Balenciaga logo. Striped clean from any of the garments, this could again be a consequence of the brand’s recent scandals. Gvasalia told Vogue, however, that it had to do with the creation of clothes which do not need to be justified by the brand on them. That, or simply because they dread an even greater decrease in sales as people continue to fear being associated with the brand, is a mystery we leave for you to uncover.