At Balenciaga’s outing today, there was a lot at stake. Not only was it the heritage house’s first men’s runway show, it also marked designer Demna Gvasalia’s own menswear debut at the label, following Alexander Wang’s short stint. Would fashion pundits, who’ve been falling over themselves to flail and swoon at the altar of Gvasalia’s main gig, Vetements, flail and swoon again? Or would a sense of reserved decorum prevail, allowing time for the designer to find his footing?
Hard to say just yet. What is true, however, is that unlike definitive menswear revolutions of recent memory, namely Raf Simons’ art-minded ravers and Hedi Slimane’s sensitive rockers (circa Dior Homme), there has not been an especially raucous underground demand for the kind of fare Gvasalia presented today. Think extreme enlarging or equally extreme shrinking of formal pieces, particularly double-breasted jackets and coats — an apparent tribute to the architectural impulses of the namesake couturier, Cristóbal Balenciaga — with the occasional snug ribbed shirt or baseball cap thrown in.
Was it suitably shocking and subversive? Sure. Was it worthy of Vetements-style fanfare? Yes again. Did the Instagram-cast models look deliberately out-of-place? Thrice yes. On the other hand, was it convincing? Not especially. Has there been a grassroots call, à la Simons or Slimane, for linebacker shoulders or other Wonderland proportions? Not really. And what was with the ecclesiastical nod — the gold-filigree clergy stole of the closing look, the lacy underlayers of other looks, the Jesuit school setting? Couldn’t tell you, except that Balenciaga, the man, was a devout Catholic.
More than anything, these pieces felt like emulation of that original disruptor, Martin Margiela, where Gvasalia used to work — gargantuan outerwear paired with loose pants. Not a bad look to emulate, even at the risk of looking forced and derivative.