13-Dec, 16:26

07:50, March 06 239 0

2017-03-06 07:50:05
Fashion Review: The Double Life of Balenciaga

PARIS — Sunday morning, in a 53,820-square-foot concrete basement exhibition space carpeted in a sea of gray striped with slanted logos, Balenciaga held its women’s wear show.

Sunday evening, in the vaulted environs of the Musée Bourdelle in the 15th Arrondissement, Balenciaga hosted a jewel-box dinner in honor of an exhibition, Balenciaga: L’oeuvre au Noir, which opens on Wednesday as part of the brand’s centenary.

Across the gulf of 100 years, they waved at each other. Hiya! Nice to see you again.

If you want to understand the definition of intimidating aesthetic history, check out the exhibition, which features more than 60 pieces from the couturier and founder of the house, including the groundbreaking pipe dress, made for standing (and only standing; you could not sit in it) during the cocktail hour; and the sculptural gazars that reshaped the body. If you want to see a contemporary designer wear it lightly, check out Demna Gvasalia’s collection for the brand.

Inspired, he said, by photographs of early couture collections from Cristóbal Balenciaga discovered by trawling through 30 years of records, which he termed the mid-20th century equivalent of a look book, Mr. Gvasalia pulled fastenings to the shoulder to recreate the distortion that occurs when a woman clutches her coat closed with one hand at the neck, exaggerating the left while reducing the right.

He wrapped car mats into pencil skirts — they had a certain cool curving rigidity that suggested (again) that sitting was a secondary consideration — and he split dresses back to front, so that what you saw from one side (swingy florals) was not what you saw from the other (shorter pleats). And he inverted proportions: baby-doll slips (reminiscent of those at Vetements, his other employer) were shrunken and barely brushed the top of thighs encased in neon tights; bags were gigantic, as they were last season.

Therein lay the thread that connected the shows: the question of depth perception, and how it can remake the body in the eyes of a viewer. The finale of nine re-editions of made-to-order ball gowns (also in a nod to the anniversary) made that clear.

Taken from sketches and photographs — according to Mr. Gvasalia, none of the actual garments exist in the archives — he took the classic Balenciaga volumes off the page and exploded them into three dimensions, adding pockets and neon tights as he went. A strapless moiré tent dress floated out in a trio of tiers like a raspberry mousse. A black sheath with a sweetheart neckline was tied with a giant taffeta bow at the waist, hands plunged into the loops. A column of white ostrich was dotted with black cockerel feathers and practically merged with a matching tote. It was fabulous — genuinely cool couture.

The problem is they were so good that the collection that came before began to seem less substantial in comparison. Chew on that, for a moment.