Into the present

Balenciaga present their first couture collection in over 50 years
By Finn Blythe | Fashion | 7 July 2021

When Cristóbal Balenciaga last presented one of his fabled couture collections, the Beatles had recently released Sgt. Pepper, anti-Vietnam protests were sweeping the globe and a young Elvis Presley just got hitched to Priscilla in the Las Vegas desert. 54 years is a long time by any standards but particularly within the rapidly changing world of fashion, making Balenciaga’s newly unveiled couture collection, the first since 1967, all the more remarkable.

This might have been Balenciaga’s 50th couture collection but it was the first from incumbent artistic director Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian-born designer who has revitalised the house during his six-year tenure. Faced with the staunch traditions of couture and its well-worn conventions, Gvasalia’s collection tip-toed between conservatism and innovation, combining both men’s and women’s for a joint expression of foresight and nostalgia.

For a man responsible for some of fashion’s most forward-looking trends in recent years (think puffer coats, band merch, Ikea accessories and embellished crocs), Gvasalia’s approach was one of pure reverence. Located in the very same Parisian apartment that Balenciaga had used to host his shows, recently restored to its former glory at Gvasalia’s request, the show’s setting was the first in a long line of homages paid to the house’s founder. From the C.B. initials embroidered onto poplin shirts and leather gloves, to the tailoring in Balenciaga staples of fresco, mohair, cashmere and barathea wool, Gvasalia took the essence of the man and infused it with modern forms and contemporary attitudes.

What would previously have been made from animal products was here recreated using savoir fair nous and pure creativity, the results far exceeding the object of imitation. In place of fur and feathers, densely embroidered loose thread and surface-treated cut-outs. Instead of crocodile, digitally designed tile-like patches were sewn together by hand. Tailored tracksuits and cashmere-lined hoodies were a nod to our Zeitgeist of indoor confinement while several Balenciaga couture classics, including a floral embroidered gown inspired by an archival piece originally worn by Jacquline Kennedy, reminded us of what we’d been missing. If this is what couture looks like in 2021, then we hope we don’t have to wait another 50 years for the next installment.

GALLERYCatwalk looks from this show