The unsettling darkness of Balenciaga’s latest show depended on the light — that is, the brilliant sunshine of Los Angeles. “I couldn’t do a collection [like this] in New York,” said the creative director, Demna. “And I couldn’t show it in Paris. It was about what comes from here.” Balenciaga originally planned to hold its show on Saturday evening but wisely switched to early afternoon, taking over a palm-lined street in elegant Hancock Park, with a postcard view of the Hollywood sign in the distance.
In terms of style, “what comes from here” is also a clichéd image: gorgeous young people tromping around in sweats, grungy plaid, and bedroom slippers, a takeout coffee in hand; red-carpet celebrities with balloon lips, and dress-to-kill mavens in Chanel tweed on Rodeo Drive. There were unmistakable nods to Juicy Couture’s velour tracksuits and UGG boots and to the fashion of movies like Mean Girls and Pretty Woman. But had Demna presented such clothes, along with his various gags — the buglike shades, the fang fingernails, the inflated sneakers — in a room in Paris or New York, or, for that matter, under runway lights in L.A., he would have left the audience impassive. He needed the bright sunshine to creep us out with his vision of a culture. Put it another way: Imagine how truly terrifying Dracula would have been had he done his business in daylight.
Over half of the fall collection was streetwear, a genre that L.A. continues to define. Baggy gym shorts. Athletic stretch pants and clingy long-sleeved tops. Hoodies of every shape. Bomber jackets. Those fat, cushy boots that suggest UGGs and also resembled the molded, cartoonish ones that Balenciaga has already done. But Demna is a genius at suggesting more than a look. I always think of the so-called “power dressing” show for spring 2020, staged in a mock government assembly chamber with models in shapeless bureaucratic suits and prosthetically enhanced cheeks, a show that made many of us laugh at its all-too-real depiction of state and media control — and persuaded many others that Demna was a killjoy, a cynic.
And on Saturday, after the show, his motivations were again questioned when a reporter asked if he wasn’t making fun, just “a little bit,” of L.A. He replied that his work is often seen as ironic but that it’s never his intention. Of course, the question is really beside the point. This is L.A. Its culture and supposed glamour have produced film noirand the novels of Raymond Chandler, and it’s played a big role in the dark or absurdist movies of Quentin Tarantino and the team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. “What comes from here,” as Demna put it, has been the subject of countless scholarly studies.
One of his strengths as a designer is to create a feeling of cool and that necessarily means a look or an attitude that is exclusive to a special group. That’s also the essence of fashion and in a way a characteristic of L.A., where many people want to be famous. “There was some kind of Andy Warhol moment going on for me,” Demna said, perhaps referring to the self-important, superstar vibe of some of the models, which included Balenciaga regulars as well as the rapper Cardi B in a fluffy, electric-blue coat. He mostly achieved the cool effect by an abundance of black (“I’ve never seen so much black in L.A.,” said the designer Zoe Latta, of Eckhaus Latta, a guest.) and also what surrounded the clothes — the eclectic cast, the extreme beauty (such as the fake nails and prosthetic lips on some models) and the new, enlarged 10XL sneakers.
Loik Gomez, the musician and composer who is known professionally as BFRND, and is married to Demna, put together a blaring soundtrack that alluded to the local obsession with wellness. It struck, appropriately, like a hammer to a nail. As Demna said of the intense sound, “That’s a big audio part of being in L.A., like being stuck in traffic and the radio ads are endless.” Think of the sneakers as a symbol of that too-muchness.
He told reporters when asked about the Juicy and red-carpet references, “I think you saw everything that you saw.” But, as in the movies, the camera conveys more than the eye can. The dozen evening styles that rounded out the show were extraordinary — in line with what he has done but also different. One or two resembled the material of a trash bag gathered hastily at the breasts. They and the extremely oversize men’s tailored suits — which had the amusing effect of making bigwigs look cut down to size — made me see an unexpected connection to the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga. He never visited Los Angeles, as far as anyone knows — he would have scarcely had any interest — but there was something of the city’s glamour and its American gothic style in his monumental shapes and dark witchy drama. It took the sunlight for me to see it.
Cathy Horyn , 2023-12-04 18:03:27