February 29, 2012 Paris
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.