It was Balenciaga at double force: the template of Cristobal Balenciaga's past, rigorously rethought by Nicolas Ghesquière, a young designer gifted with the intellect and technical skill to propel the name to a whole new relevance. Ghesquière's woman, in her amazing wardrobe of short, molded checked tweed suits with stand-away collars, rounded coats and mind-blowingly wrought evening dresses, radiated a powerful modernity.
Elevating his models to a towering height with tall hats and vertiginous platform boots, Ghesquière's vision created extraordinary volumes and new proportions using fabrics that are rarely seen outside haute couture. The research he had done in the company's archives resulted in a surge of technical creativity that goes way beyond literal copying. He riffed at high speed through all the changes of silhouette Balenciaga developed in his 30-year careerfrom stiff peplumed jackets rising slightly above the waist, to simple sheaths, to elaborately surfaced Jacquard evening dresses with skirts that stand out in 3-D bubbles.
In a season when so many designers are quoting Balenciaga, Ghesquière pushed his design to a place no one else has reached. Part of it was in the intensity of the decoration involvedlike the minutely beaded flowers on a white bodice, the zones of tiny ruffles outlining a shift, or the hand-painted rose-color patterning on a skirt that bloomed like an exotic flower. Equally important, though, was the way he leavened the historical reference with simple, hip pieces that stand in line with his own sensibility, like swing-back coats with the ease of a parka, his signature skinny pants, and a navy jacket that came with a cream bouclé linera stroke that referred back to the shearlings he's always loved. Throughout, you sensed the mark of a designer who has hit such a confident stride that, even though he has many more commercial things in the showroomincluding the hugely successful Balenciaga bagshe can devote his runway to a pure distillation of ideas.
Some of these stellar pieces will appear in the Balenciaga Paris exhibition that opens in July at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, juxtaposed against the original treasures culled from Cristobal Balenciaga's illustrious body of work. It's the biggest compliment to Ghesquière to say that his work will not only stand up to the comparison, but will also prove how he's bounced the history of the house back into a startling relevance for today.