PARIS – Who can save us now? A fully armored Joan of Arc walked through Balenciaga’s salons at the close of the couture show on Wednesday. Demna insisted he was making a personal statement about how his job is his protection, “a safe place where I believe I exist.” But the outside world has a habit of catching up with his personal statements. Remember, he wanted the huge hole his Spring ’23 show hovered around as a metaphor for his way out of the box the industry had put him in, but the war in Ukraine co-opted his intention and turned the hole into a mass grave pit. Either way, Demna’s Joan (actually his muse and frequent model Eliza Douglas) will likely end up being an enduring icon of this couture season – alongside Daniel Roseberry’s Broken Mirrors suit at Schiaparelli – unfolding as in a very real context of social unrest in France.
After the show, Demna suggested that fashion itself was on fire, consumed by counterfeiting, marketing, sales, anything that took her away from what mattered: making real clothes and remembering who they were for. facts. “Sewing is the only way to shed light on what is really the essence of this craft,” he said. He compared it to the Covid Moderna vaccine. “He can’t save [fashion] but it can at least underline the importance of keeping one’s immunity. For me, without it, there is no hope.
It is therefore not WHO but What can save us now? Sewing! And Demna set out to convince us of that with stunning techniques, uncompromising silhouettes and a fearless attitude. Cristobal Balenciaga Redux, in other words. Demna created a portal to the past in the form of Danielle Slavik, who was Cristobal’s in-form model until 1968. The first model released, she wore her old boss’s favorite dress, a black velvet dress embellished with pearls. After Demna recreated it and gifted it to her, he said she couldn’t say no to him.
The feminine looks that followed featured the inside-out jacket effect Demna debuted in the latest ready-to-wear. He creates a hyper-structured funnel neck, and he assists Vittoria Cerretti, in sinuous black velvet with a long train, in her highly effective channeling of Morticia Addams. Then came an exercise in sham at its transformative extreme. The linen canvas has been painstakingly hand painted by a team of artists to look like a houndstooth blazer, fur coat or sharkskin suit with all the devilish shine of a tablecloth of petroleum. Cotton was painted by hand like a denim jacket and matching jeans (two and a half months to paint jeans, Demna marvels). The leather has been transformed into python. The otherwise perfect illusion was not quite complete. The paint stopped a fraction above the hem. But that was Demna’s tip of the hat to the impossibility of perfection, the bane of Cristobal’s own career.
There were coats and scarves frozen in the middle of a gust of wind. There was embroidered leopard in silk crepe, or a polka-dot dress that blended into the finest fringes, or other spiral dresses of red or pink tulle that rolled up like pasta. Once things started moving, they turned into something else. “Imperfection is about being human and vulnerable,” Demna insisted. With the exception of Eva Herzigova’s stiff red lace shaded dress and equally adamant column of glass beads, thousands of them came together as jewelry rather than clothing. And then there was this armor: a 3D printed chrome resin, with a velvet lining. Daniel Roseberry came to mind with his anti-AI collection the other day. “Fashion is easy to imitate, but couture is very hard to copy,” confirmed Demna. AI had, however, been a huge help in creating its remarkable soundtrack, helping to separate Maria Callas’ vocals from her orchestral accompaniment. It has never been heard as stripped down to the bare essentials as this before. There must be another metaphor somewhere.
This couture season is the fifth time that a guest designer has been selected to interpret the work of Jean Paul Gaultier. The last candidate was Haider Ackermann, who chose to bet on the rigor and purity of Gaultier’s masterful tailoring. His collection is a triumph, setting the bar very high for his successor, the young prodigy of Paco Rabanne Julien Dossena.
But Dossena went in the opposite direction on Wednesday. If Gaultier was admired for his technique, he was loved for his cheerfully humanistic theatricality. This is how Dossena discovered him when he was growing up in Brittany. When Gaultier hit TV with his extravagant presentations and fabulous entourage of characters, nine-year-old Julian saw his future in a flash. “Jean Paul sees the world as an extraordinarily creative and talented child, and that’s what I wanted to explore in this collection,” Dossena said.
So, for those with a memory of Gaultier’s unparalleled series of shows in the 1990s and into the new century, Dossena’s tribute was pure delight. He skillfully underlined the French connection (JPG has always been the most French designers). The sound of the street and the footsteps on the cobblestones of the soundtrack evoked Paris. The outfits are named after Parisian monuments. “Father Lachaise”, For example, was a black velvet gown draped at an angle, its neckline filled with real red roses for a cheerful grieving widow. A lavishly adorned frock coat embodied L’Ecole Militaire. The “Galerie Vivienne”, where Gaultier once had his boutique and presented his shows, was represented by Laetitia Casta, who posed for him for the first time 20 years ago, in a crimson velvet dress with a floral bouquet tucked into the back like a bunny rabbit tail.
There were echoes of great collections of the past: the janitor’s twinset and tweed skirt; the black satin mantle, ” religiously “, with the chapka, from the controversial “Chic Rabbis” collection; Eve naked under a transparent slip dress with a merkin of black pearls, from the show “Adam and Eve”. And there were also Gaultier’s design signatures, like the Breton stripe, punk tartan, undergarments as outerwear, and conical-breasted bustiers.
But Dossena’s show was not a simple exhumation of another designer’s past. The invitation credited “Jean Paul, Julien, Paco and The Others”. An important part of the collection incorporated the metallic mesh that was Paco Rabanne’s major contribution to the fashion vocabulary, dramatically in pieces like the dragon-embroidered corset with the long silver skirt or the gold draped dress with the lining. in floral satin, accompanied by an Olympian headdress of gold leaf.
I don’t know who “The Others” are. Perhaps the designers who are yet to come in what has become fashion’s most enjoyable initiative.