The Balenciaga show took place 27 floors up a Paris skyscraper in a space
that the house's longtime artist, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, spent months
tweaking to designer Nicolas Ghesquière's specifications. It would've
provided panoramic views of Paris had it not been so cloudy. Alas,
Ghesquière can't control the weather, but he marshaled no small number of
professionals to produce this fashion event, and the setting was nothing
short of transporting.
This season, Ghesquière was the chairman of the board and the models his employees—both literally and metaphorically. There were VPs and a legal
department and interns and IT girls (as in information technology, not
"It"). He even put corporate spies on his fluorescent-lit runway. Balenciaga
Inc. is unlike any office you've ever seen; it'll have fashion types
debating fiercely at the water cooler for months. Why? Because this was the
designer in experimental mode, advancing our collective eye forward, even as
he seemed to glance back at the same era he revisited for pre-fall, the one
when "France decided to be modern" in the late seventies and early eighties.
The designer moved the fashion conversation along today in a few different
ways: by proposing new silhouettes with exaggerated, even challenging
proportions (bonded leather coats with shoulders out to there, sculptural
padded sweaters over stiff A-line skirts with doubled front panels); by deliberately trafficking in items of questionable taste (those black satin sweatshirts
with spacey slogans like "JOIN A WEIRD TRIP" and "OUT OF THE BLUE" are
instant collector's items); and by continuing to emphasize fabric research.
The IT girls wore jumpsuits made from a hi-tech parachute material, and his
animal prints came two ways—as a jacquard snake on the wool bodices of the
office rebels' strapless dresses and as leopard spots that looked like
liquid mercury on the executives' jackets (they were actually padded
appliqués of lamé jersey). Employees at every rung on the corporate ladder
will be happy to note that the new Balenciaga heel is lower—the easier to get
around in—than previous incarnations.
Not all of it was as pleasing. As in any office, there are people you love
and others who leave you cold. All in all, though, a remarkable company.