Now in his third runway season at Balenciaga, Alexander Wang is settling in and feeling more confident. You could see it in the all-American sportswear, with its references to utility and speed. And it was there in his emphasis on knits, too. As a design student, Wang began his own business with a line of knits. Having noticed their absence in the archives, he was eager to bring some of that vocabulary to the house.
We're not talking about run-of-the-mill sweaters, of course. Wang's Balenciaga is a laboratory and the clothes this season were experiments in hybridization. At a preview, he explained, "I go back to pieces that feel familiar—it's a sweater, it's a wrap dress, it's a raincoat—and ask myself, 'How do I make it feel special?'" Cabled knits were laminated with latex or bonded with leather. Rugby-stripe dresses were knit from thin strips of Japanese polyester jersey, and ribbed pullovers were reimagined with thick fur ribs. Wang also gave the evening sweater idea a go, adding gray wool shrugs with dense "sea urchin" beading around the necklines to draped and wrapped duchesse satin tops.
As it goes with experiments, many worked, but some didn't. The opening coats with their beaver fur panels, knitted leather kangaroo pockets, decorative zipper details, and belts looked belabored. His belted wrap coats in marled brights, by comparison, were unfussy and uncomplicated, and they were better for it. Moving forward, Wang should learn to trust in simplicity. Other elements in the show suggested he's absorbed that lesson. His slim, slightly flaring pants were exemplarily cut; they were sexy and leg-elongating, a fact that was put into sharp relief by an understated turtleneck with an asymmetric hem. Meanwhile, "shopping bag" bags, which the models carried in multiples, pointed to Wang's sense of humor. The seriousness of his responsibilities at Balenciaga had seemed to sap him of his signature playfulness in the past. To see him having some fun here was a positive development.