A brilliant commentary on celebrity worship, popular culture, inclusivity — and where fashion fits into all of that — the Balenciaga show came in the guise of a film premiere and all the red-carpet shenanigans around such events, climaxing with a bespoke episode of “The Simpsons.”
It was riotously fun, blurring the lines between fashion and entertainment; thawing the icy, impassive image of the Balenciaga brand, and further solidifying Demna Gvasalia’s position as one of the industry’s most original and unpredictable thinkers.
A giant, red photo-call set in front of the Théâtre du Châtelet had all the trappings of awards season in Hollywood: howling photographers, efficient handlers, and a steady stream of attention-seeking guests. All of this was broadcast inside the venue on a giant screen as if it were Oscar night.
The normally stern Cathy Horyn, in a mannish wool coat, hammed it up in front of the wall of cameras even better than Susie Bubble, sending her colleagues inside into hysterics. More editors, street-style stars, VIP clients and assorted cool characters arrived in their fashion-week finest.
Interspersed was the summer 2022 collection, worn by glowering models, members of Gvasalia’s design team, and famous members of the brand tribe, from artist Eliza Douglas and racing driver Lewis Hamilton to actors Elliot Page and Isabelle Huppert. Numbers popped up on the giant screen to indicate the look numbers, though cheers from Balenciaga employees, seated in the upper balconies of the gilded theater, were an extra clue.
By the time Cardi B arrived, her face partly obscured by a bowl-shaped Philip Treacy hat from the Balenciaga Couture runway and a trenchcoat printed with a collage of celebrity magazines, it felt like Gvasalia couldn’t top the moment.
But then those telltale clouds appeared on the screen, clearing to reveal the Simpsons household, and the audience roared with delight.
If we are indeed entering an “attention economy,” Balenciaga is sure to grab 10 minutes on YouTube from virtually anyone with a passing interest in fashion — and the zillions of people, including children, who adore that quirky cartoon family.
The episode depicts Homer Simpson struggling to pronounce the French fashion brand (“Balun, Balloon, Baleen”); Marge strolling through Springfield in a sharp-shouldered gown, and the whole town flown to Paris for fashion week to model looks from recent Balenciaga collections.
No shortage of product placements here: Sideshow Bob shoving his giant feet into sleek Balenciaga sock sneakers; the grouchy bartender Moe resplendent in a fridge-sized camel coat, and Lisa Simpson sashaying in a red, fishtail gown. “Walk a runway? It’s so superficial. Ugh, just this once. For research,” the girl sniffs, only to exclaim “Whee!” once she hits the spotlights.
When the laughter dies down, people can turn their attention to Gvasalia’s terrific new collection, which had a dressier bent — given the red-carpet theme and his recent foray into haute couture — across the spectrum of his fetish garments, from T-shirts and hoodies to loose dresses and tight catsuits with built-in heels.
The designer’s insistence on oversize shapes, with a dollop of dystopian gloom and a dash of underground edginess, has now made Balenciaga identifiable by the huge, elegantly sagging silhouettes; the blown-out jeans and deliberately tattered knits; the squarish shoes, now sculpted in rubber-like EVA, or bulbous sneakers and Crocs. He reined in obvious branding to big double-B logos on trapezoid-shaped handbags and chunky crystal earrings.
Gvasalia was the last to appear on the red carpet, reprising his Met gala look of a black hoodie, gloves and face covering, wagging a finger at the paparazzi who begged for more.
In a telephone chat before the show, Gvasalia said he wanted “something to make you smile,” and it was hard not to, watching Bart lower his Balenciaga shorts to moon the front row — only to have five men drop their trousers with the retort: “You think we are offended? This is France!”