PFW: BALENCIAGA S/S 2016

Balenciaga S/S16
Balenciaga S/S16

I doubt Alexander Wang has even cleaned off his cutting table at Balenciaga yet and already the talk is buzzing around who is going to take his place. At the moment, popular consensus has narrowed choices to three designers, two of whom formerly worked for Balenciaga under Nicholas Ghesquière. It’s worth mentioning that Balenciaga is owned by Kering, who brought in Alessandro Michele to Gucci just a few months ago. Does anyone have an inside scoop here? I don’t think so. The only trend I see is toward choosing designers who are not yet huge names. If we don’t immediately recognize Kering’s choice, don’t be surprised.

As for the show itself, don’t believe everything you read, or hear. Set in the cloître of an old Parisian church, with elevated reflecting pools running down the center, Wang created an ambience that largely resembled a California spa, right down to a soundtrack featuring a number of popular “old school” rappers. Right there, Wang made enemies among fashion’s more snobby editors (the Brits at Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio were having a conniption collective). They felt this was a totally disrespectful move, paramount to Wang raising a middle finger to the label, the corporation, and everyone in Paris. For all I know, maybe he was. It’s no secret that Wang was anxious to step away, and if his contract would have allowed he probably would rather have not done this collection at all. So, if he was feeling a bit rebellious, and maybe even a bit resentful with how he’s been treated the past few months, I don’t think there’s any room for surprise.

What I didn’t see coming was a totally all-white collection. Alex has always had a tendency to prefer black and white and often shows a preference for a specific color, but there was a complete absence of color in this collection, with the exception of some brass fasteners and clutch covers, a bit of pinstripe and detail in the slippers. Again, one can argue that he’s going for that California spa feeling, which is typically all white, but this seemed a bit extreme.

The first half of the show felt almost as though we were invading someone’s bedroom. All the pieces were in silk and models wore house slippers. Not even fancy house slippers at that. Pieces resembled slips, camisoles, and pajamas with just enough added ruffle for them to not actually be those things. He did eventually add some white leather jackets and frayed white denim, but he never lost the house slippers, which continued to infuriate the critics. Expletives exploded across social media as the collection continued.

Wait, though. Stop. Look at what Alex actually did: he built an entire collection around the concept of a single element, the bustier, without actually using a true bustier. He played off that foundation in just about every direction possible with an amazing exercise in creativity that would have elicited praise had he done the same thing in his own collection. There are some similarities in a couple of places, most notably the oversized jackets and loose-fitting skater denims along with the trailing ribbons more common to urban design. In many ways, this is a very cool and exciting collection. Anyone who is not caught up in the politics of fashion, who likes clothes because they know what they like to wear, is probably going to find this collection quite delightful.

So, when you see the editor of LULA magazine say that she thinks the collection might have “ruined his career,” don’t necessarily believe it. It’s fair to question whether the relationship between Wang and Balenciaga was ever a good idea from the outset. People inside Balenciaga still talk lovingly about Nicholas Ghesquière, which would severely undermine any respect that Wang rightly deserved. Wang’s career will be just fine, I’m sure, and his eponymous brand is likely to outsell Balenciaga rather substantially.

When Alex made his famous trot down the runway, he came out holding up his phone, streaming the whole thing, stopping to take a selfie, and then nearly tripping over himself as he sprinted to the end and back. I think he’s quite happy to be done with Balenciaga, and perhaps Balenciaga is happy to be free of Wang. But still, if one attempts to be objective, this was a kick-ass collection.

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