Mudslinging at Balenciaga

(Photos: Balenciaga’s website)
We live in a dirty, dirty world.

A world where muckraking, mudslinging, and drain-the-swamp chanting are just part of daily life. Little wonder Demna, the mononymous designer of Balenciaga and master of the visual metaphor, decided to get down into the pit and wallow.اضافة اعلان

To be specific: He decided to truck in 275 cubic meters of black mud harvested from a French peat bog and dump it in the middle of a convention center on the outskirts of Paris. It was smooshed onto the walls, sliding down the sides of an enormous trough, and dug into a shallow catwalk along the edge, seeping with water, all courtesy of Spanish artist Santiago Sierra.

The air was pungent with a moist eau de peat (a special scent had been created to enhance the smell of decomposition) and slime was oozing across the aisles. Guests picked their way carefully to their seats, terrified of wiping out.

The set was, Demna wrote in his show notes, about “digging for the truth and being down to earth”. If that requires getting your hands (and feet and clothes) gunked-up, so be it. While his couture has become his experiment with Balenciaga’s legacy, the ready-to-wear has become his means of social commentary. It is not pretty out there. Neither was his mud club.

Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West, and a long-time Demna co-conspirator) stomped out in leather biker pants, an oversize flak jacket, a baseball cap, and a Balenciaga-logo mouth guard, made up to look as though he had been punched in the face. Well, you have to fight for what you believe.

Then came a host of stragglers (strugglers?), men and women in baggy jeans shredded from the back and dropped low on the hips to show the Balenciaga-logo waistbands of their underwear. There were Hulk-sized nylon jackets and dirtied-up sweatshirts with matching running shorts and handbags made from old teddy bears that looked as if they had been disinterred.

Some guys wore ballet flats on their feet and baby carriers on front, with eerily lifelike baby dolls inside (giving new meaning to Dad jeans). Scarves corkscrewed down the body, jouncing up and down. One shoulder bag had an integral sleeve so it could be worn like a gauntlet. The hem of a lipstick-red, pleated silk gown was turned brown in the dirt; ditto a pink jersey number knotted multiple times on the side and a crystal-sprinkled mesh tank gown. The last look was a leather dress pieced together from a host of cut-up Balenciaga handbags.

There was no hierarchy of preciousness here, which is part of the point. One Demna has been making since he first put Balenciaga crocs on his runway years ago, and that he has been exploring ever since with leather garbage bags and desiccated sneakers, among other accessories. It is button-pushing of the most calculated kind. People freak out, but he sets an agenda.

What makes a garment qualify as “luxury”? Is it the material, the decoration, the impracticality? Backstage, afterward, surrounded by a crush of reporters waving smartphones in his face, Demna talked about the work that goes into making a new garment look permanently destroyed (it is technically hard).

So would you feel like an idiot paying an exorbitant price for a purposefully muddied sweatshirt? Maybe — but there is a precedent with ripped jeans.

And really, who is the emperor with new clothes in this scenario: the person who blindly accepts the values handed down to them by others, or the one who buys into the idea of turning those values inside-out?

They do not call it filthy lucre for nothing.

Ye — who was in Paris because he was scheduled to hold his own surprise Yeezy show Monday night — seemed on board with the idea, later making a front-row appearance at Matthew M. Williams’ Givenchy show still wearing his mouth guard and makeup bruise.

Held outside in the rain in the Jardin des Plantes, it was Williams’ first pure womenswear show for Givenchy after two years of combining both genders on a single runway, to better clarify his vision for the brand.

Which was a clash! Of cultures and style stereotypes, Paris and LA, as told through destroyed jeans, baggy cargo shorts, cropped ruffled blouses, and tweed bouclé. Knock me over with a trench coat.

While more coherent than his previous outings, however, it was not any more original. This particular version of street-meets-chic is now so familiar that it looks like part of the fashion furniture. And a finale of LBDs (long black dresses) was elegant, but blandly archival. Williams’ Givenchy is not bad. It is just unmemorable. It does not make you feel much of anything.

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