Monday 2nd March

| BY Claudia Croft

Balenciaga: Ready-to-wear AW20

The level of detail that goes into a Balenciaga show is astonishing. You don’t just see it with your eyes but experience it with your whole body. You are immersed. You feel it  – the pounding primal club beats of the sound track vibrates through your seat). You smell it – fragrances are pumped into the show space. But first our senses were cleansed. The audience passed through a black-curtained sensory deprivation chamber before emerging into the dark show space, set with stadium seating, around a rippling flooded void. Beyond that it was difficult to see. It was only when the show started that it became clear the pool was the catwalk. Demna Gavasalia said it was supposed to represent petrol: “we are kind of drowning in this shit”.

The front two rows of seating had been inundated by its gloom. The models splashed through the murk, reflecting an ever changing digital sky-scape above our heads. The scene was apocalyptic. Fire skies, storm clouds, fleeing flocks of birds, the earth from outer space, a total eclipse, nature in crisis. Imagine a 21st century version of Cecile B. DeMille epic for scale and wow. The clothes added to the biblical sense of foreboding and menace. The show began with men and women in long black ecclesiastical robes inspired by the orthodox priests of Gvasalia’s Georgian childhood. They splashed through Balenciaga’s toxic lake to a banging techno soundtrack that shook the stadium and penetrated the bodies of everyone there with its reverb. 

Much of the collection was black – the first dress Cristobal Balenciaga ever made was in black velvet. Silhouettes were extreme perversions of the norm. Jackets had jutting pagoda shoulders and the oversized suits in the show were described as “anabolic”. A section of nipped-in hourglass jackets and dresses, looked like executive shape-wear, their extreme silhouette was achieved with thermoformed, stretch material, not corsetry. True to the spirit of the house Gvasalia is pushing boundaries in terms of silhouette and technique. A series of ingenious draped jersey “gala” dresses (half catsuit, half gown) were “all-inclusive”, incorporating shoes, gloves, leggings and a gown all in one piece. “I like that!” said Kim Kardashian, to her husband Kanye West in the front row. 

They looked great and fanned the flames of anticipation for Gavasalia’s debut couture show for Balenciaga in July. Kinks and fetishes, private pleasures –including Gvasalia’s “thing” for footballers and priests – became public. There was plenty of rubber (a sinister spiked jacket or a lavishly caped raincoat) and leather (notably the motocross suits and thigh-high western boots). Some models wore padlocked belts – a reference to chastity belts. It’s all part of Gvasalia’s exploration of desire and inverting dress codes.

Photographs by Jason Lloyd-Evans.