Balenciaga: A surprising cast of characters

As so often with Balenciaga, there was something awkward and disconcerting about almost every aspect of the collection and its presentation.

First the set: a great ball of an arena in a tasteless shade of blue – as near as could be imagined for a political rally.

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Then the first figures appeared: men from solemn to seedy wearing what seemed unlikely – tailored suits.


Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2020
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The collection was about “dressing for work – power dressing”, Denma said. “No matter what one does as a job, looks transform a wearer in the way a uniform can,” he explained. “Unlike their archetypes, though, garments and accessories are made using unconventional processes.”


Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2020
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It was a short time before tailoring became obtrusive in a way that has become Demna’s trademark. There were disturbing protuberances at the shoulders, those vast lines that maybe empowered the women but overwhelmed the men’s faces that popped out of the awkward neckline, as if ready to be sculpted.


Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2020
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To end the show, women in giant crinolines were dancing around, their extended skirts swaying over the stairs.

“Wearable ballroom dresses reference the couture house’s legacy in contemporary textiles, with removable crinolines, to be worn in any setting,” intoned the inventor of this fashion House of Madness.

 


Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2020
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In fact, there were fine clothes, especially tailoring, among this political melee. You have to admire Demna’s ability to turn well-cut (and hyper-expensive) clothes into a rallying ground, not to mention the equally pricey sneakers.


Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2020
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What part of this embraces the legacy of Cristobal Balenciaga? The sweeping flowered dresses perhaps. And somewhere between the exaggerated suits and the crinolines, Demna caught a fashion nerve.

Givenchy: Taking a tour

Just when you thought that Givenchy had found a 21st-century calling – dressing newly royal Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex – the brand has taken a new turn.

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What was designer Clare Waight Keller trying to do with this Spring/Summer 2020 Ready-to-Wear collection? Re-imagine Givenchy in the hip-hop age in downtown New York?

It seemed like a fantastical combination, and weird – not only for Meghan, who might be looking for streamlined dresses – but also for the image of what Givenchy once stood for: graceful chic.


Givenchy Spring/Summer 2020
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Three other British designers have been Artistic Directors for the brand, while the Italian Riccardo Tisci served the longest, from 2005-2017. But if asked for its current identity, I would struggle to define it.


Givenchy Spring/Summer 2020
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Givenchy jeans as torn away, dishevelled and faded denim? Really? And various other Nineties looks: blazers cut long, almost down to the hip line; big shoulders.


Givenchy Spring/Summer 2020
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Yet if the runway music had not been the throbbing “Throw it Back” by Missy Elliott, maybe Clare could have created quite a different look with the floral, long summer dresses or others in pine green or beige leather.


Givenchy Spring/Summer 2020
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Even a two-way coat with a vertical divide between dark and pale blue denim looked chic.


Givenchy Spring/Summer 2020
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Yet the overall feeling from the runway was of a rebellious teenager arguing with her mum. Mother wore a voluminous dress; daughter wore the torn jeans and a satin bra.


Givenchy Spring/Summer 2020
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The current Givenchy has a lot going for it, mostly the breezy openness of a designer whose easy Englishness chimes with Parisian rigour. But if she has not decided what she stands for at Givenchy, how can the rest of us?