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Balenciaga Fall 2024 Couture Runway, Fashion Show & Collection Review: Pushing the Experimental Envelope

“I hate hats,” Demna declared backstage after the Balenciaga couture show, even though “eccentric headwear” was one of four emblematic codes of founder Cristóbal Balenciaga that he chose to explore this season through the lens of subcultures. “It’s such a useless object, but it’s such an important object to complete the silhouette.”

He had featured gleaming, dome-shaped hats in his couture debut back in 2021. Here, they looked more like black T-shirts reeking of cigarettes tossed over a lampshade after a bender — which is exactly the attitude Demna seemed to be after.

In recent months, the gulf has widened between Balenciaga’s image on the red carpet — sculptural, but demure gowns inspired directly by the archives — and Demna’s angst-ridden ready-to-wear runways, still rampant with Frankenstein boots, ginormous sneakers and hardcore dystopian layers.

Here, the two universes were brought closer together, although not always harmoniously, as in a fishtail gown composed of melted plastic carrier bags that looked about as appealing as it sounds.

Still, in a ho-hum couture season full of rather plain clothes and no-risk silhouettes, Demna pushed the experimental envelope with jumbo jeans, cocoon-shaped T-shirts, stiffened and sculptural leather blousons, and pumps so pointy you could pierce a wiener with them and roast it on an open flame.

Backstage he described his C-shaped silhouettes that were revealed in profile, achieved by backing jersey hoodies or jeans jackets with silk scuba satin to bulge out the back, and reinforced by those jutting hats and extra-long shoes.

Profile silhouettes were the second Cristóbal code, and the others were three-quarter-length sleeves, seen on hoodies and blousons, and fabric innovation.

Wizardry with textiles included a silk “tuffetage” embroidery that approximated buffalo-plaid flannel for an oversize men’s shirt; heavy-metal concert T-shirts that took 70 hours to hand-paint, and a faux-fur coat realized with a herringbone marquetry technique that took nearly two months to realize.

More than any other designer, Demna has extended the territory of couture by collaborating with tech companies, opening Balenciaga Couture Stores, and upcycling elements of old clothes into new couture creations.

On Wednesday, he created offbeat gowns made from accumulations of surplus Balenciaga outerwear and jerseys, and also introduced the concept of ephemeral couture since the finale look, an egg-shaped mass of 47 meters of black nylon held together with staples, was prepared backstage like a soufflé you order at the start of your meal.

“About 30 minutes before the show, the dress didn’t exist,” he said, explaining that couture is not about need, but about “an experience of wearing clothes.”

Staged at Balenciaga’s historic couture salons on Avenue George V, the show had a zen mood heightened by the meditative, self-help mantras that served as a soundtrack, which guided listeners how to “create a path to a happy life.”

Demna’s happy place seems to be poking a thumb in the eye of couture norms, occasionally with wry humor. A case in point: His favorite model Eliza Douglas came out in a seamless black velvet column that covered her entire body from the neck down, putting the focus on her archival necklace from 1960.

“A jewelry display case almost” was how Demna described her look.

For more couture fall 2024 reviews, click here.

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