On Sunday, after a seventh consecutive week of a falling Dow, when the titans of industry and finance gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for a delayed World Economic Forum, a different meeting was held in front of the Stock Exchange. New York values.
There were screams. There were pushes. There were policemen gathered and barricades.
They weren’t there for the downsizing of Occupy Wall Street, or any kind of protest about the current markets. They were there for Balenciaga’s spring 2023 show, the brand’s first show to take place outside of Paris, which also happened to be the first show to take place on the parquet floor of the symbolic beating heart of creation and destruction of American wealth.
Even the financial system, it seems, can be seduced by the promise of fashion. At least for the right price.
Whatever the debate around Demna, Balenciaga’s mononymous creative director, is he a genius, a charlatan, the most influential designer of his generation? There is no denying that he has impeccable timing.
Or that in an age where everything seems reduced to the momentary and the micro, from daily TikTok trends to clothing subcultures, he is the rare designer with giant ambition, willing to make big changes to our shared reality: the climate change, celebrity culture, war. And now money.
Inside the towering, neon-lit chamber where company executives gather to ring the opening bell as their companies go public, guests including Kanye West, “Selling Sunset’s” Christine Quinn, Megan Thee Stallion and Mayor Eric Adams sat on stools that snaked through the jumble of broadcast booths. The first model stomped out in a full-body black latex jumpsuit, with eye and mouth holes, worn under a double-breasted black wool coat, tapered and padded shoulders, a luxurious satin bow hanging from the neck. Oh, and wire-rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of her nose.
As the statements go on about the fetishization of finance, its dangers and allure, not to mention the dangers and allure of going back to the office, it doesn’t get much clearer than that.
In case you missed it, it happened over and over again. All the models wore bodysuits, their faces darkened, some with strands of hair sprouting from the top: individuality stifled by the pursuit of profit, all of them slaves to work and fashion, the blood that pumps the city. (Backstage, Demna also wore the latex, although she said the suit would not be for sale.)
There were swaggering power suits, rigorously tailored. And, stripped of styling and cultural commentary, they really are just that: the kind of clothing that gives you confidence from the outside in. There were “Working Girl” tops upgraded to the executive suite with crocodile-print leather skirts. , pleated polka dot dresses, and cinched-to-the-hip sack-back trench coats. Also, huge clown boots, pumps fitted to what looked like small inflatable lifeboats, and a briefcase-shaped bag of “Money” that opened from below.
It was like a tour through the uniform FiDi clichés filtered through a black mirror lens, so elegance mixed with absurdity in almost equal measure.
The office wear is, according to a Balenciaga press release, actually the start of a new line called Garde-Robe involving “wardrobe staples” that will be a kind of perennial offering between ready-to-wear and haute couture. .
Sprinkled in between were simple, body-conscious dresses, elegant satin separates (including a great pair of night pajamas and a satin trench coat with a train), and finally, the brand’s latest collaboration: Balenciaga/Adidas, complete with three stripes on the suit. and sweatshirts, the clover over a lowercase “balenciaga” on T-shirts, and some really cool bathrobes in Crayola colors.
Of course, it was still about profit: streetwear and its related category, sportswear, is the latest fetish of the high fashion brand market, albeit in a slightly less provocative and more predictable way than before. After all, the collaboration follows a similar joint venture by Adidas with Gucci and another with Prada.
Until that point there was (thankfully) not a single logo in sight, a reflection of the fact that since coming to the brand, Demna has created a design signature so clear that it is recognizable without the need for additional initials. That it doesn’t change much from season to season is part of the point. Just battering ram shoulders, hips built with haute couture pleats and pleats: the ordinary transformed into something completely different.
The ability to make you look, and then think again. Maybe we’ll go back to work and get dressed. Maybe we shouldn’t. Either way, we should at least consider the implications and cost of all this. Priceless, really.