Nicolas Ghesquière has decided the world has quite enough cocktail wear to be getting along with. "I wanted to do something urban. No more history for the moment!" he said backstage at the Hôtel de Crillon, before sending out a collection that reclaimed the beat of street athleticism: the hoodie (done here as a highly structured paneled leather vest); skinny, vertically patchworked jeans; complex tanks; and sporty kilts. Take it as read that we're not looking at generics. Every silhouette, each garment, every extraordinary tubular-ankled, open-toed boot is an uncopyable meld of futuristic technique and art craftsmanship. The quality defines Ghesquière's Balenciaga as unique.
Take the "jeans." What looks, at a distance, as if it might be gray-blue denim is actually vegetable-dyed leather. The "hoodie" is engineered from molded leather, woven jersey, and nylon foam. The ankle sections of the boots are either hand-loomed fabric or a meltdown of blue, white, and green strips of leather, laser-compressed into a striated amalgam that looks, as Ghesquière joked, "like Play-Doh." (He likes a toy reference in a shoe.)
In the collage of elements, there were recycled fabrics and natural-looking hemp weaves, and a sidelong tribalism in the urban-warrior eye makeup and footwear. The street element had some of the flavor of the hit "student" collection of Fall 2007, and it will certainly give license to young women—and the vendors of fast fashion—to look at sweats and gym skirts in a whole new, highly commercial light.
It's a sign of a designer's influence when his work is knocked off as fast as the mass market can run. But Ghesquière's métier is one that can't be simplistically rendered down. His collection also involves infinite subtlety. It segued into chic coat-dresses—patched with streaks of lemon and green—against textured beige spiraled leather togas contrasted with painted suede. The show ended with minute but mind-bending latticework skirts that shivered like porcupine quills, flashing shots of green and maroon in movement. That kind of work can't be replicated anywhere else but in this house, and if there's still an argument for high fashion versus low, this is one of the strongest defenses that exists.