“Clothes are the armor I used to protect myself,” explained Balenciaga’s couturier Demna after a superlative show and collection staged Wednesday in the house’s headquarters on Avenue George V.
A show that ended with a latter-day Joan of Arc in a magnificent trompe l’oeil suit of armor, in the latest example of Demna’s take on chivalric couture. Though the armor turned out to be resin covered in chrome.
“I always thought that if Joan of Arc had worn armor instead of men’s pants, she might not have ended up getting burned,” said Demna in a post-show chat.
A Fall/Winter 2023/24 collection whose leit-motif was some truly exceptional examples of trompe l’oeil. Where skilled painters managed to uncannily reproduce astrakhan fur trim, green lizard skin in a natty blazer and mink fur in a coat, that could have been painted by Andrea del Castro.
“I was thinking of when I began going to museums, that I was always a little jealous of the guys who were able to do trompe l’oeil, so this is my response. Isn’t that the whole point of couture making something nobody has tried before?” he argued, as 40 fashion writers gathered around him. An acid test of a couturier’s influence. No one today attracts so many critics, another reminder of Demna’s position, as the pre-eminent couturier in Paris.
The Georgian-born designer has such a fertile imagination he even invented a whole new couture shape, a series of soaring uber wide collars which meant jackets, coats and gowns had no real shoulders at all. While the neckline took on the shape of a chalice. In less skillful hands these would have been very odd, but Demna managed to make them look amazingly cool.
Unusually for a couture show, a good 20 of the looks were for men, ranging from an incredible hand-painted Prince of Wales check suit made of linen to a fantastic snow leopard coat, again painted painstakingly by hand. All the gents wearing Cuban heel boots with pointy toes in the shape of a plasterer’s trowel.
Somewhat ironically, a collection that opened with an archive look worn by Danielle Slavik, who was the house model of Cristobal Balenciaga for five years until he shuttered his business in 1968. A perfectly draped black velvet gown finished with black roses and a double pearl necklace, a version of which was later worn by Grace Kelly.
Continuing his tradition of using actresses as models, Isabelle Huppert made a Catherine de’ Medici like appearance in a ruffled widow’s dress covered in shiny jade.
A show backed up by the lone voice of Maria Callas, extracted from any orchestral backing, the purest statement of the soprano’s voice in the year of her centenary. Beginning and ending with Norma and taking in Gianni Schicchi and Carmen.
“It took us several months to complete, and we needed two AI programs to make it work. Maria Callas never actually recorded in a studio, so this was in a real sense a couture soundtrack,” concluded the quiet spoken couturier.
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