Balenciaga FW23: Where Do We Go From Here?

After a thunderstorm of criticism following two disturbed ad campaigns at the end of 2022, Demna has chosen to abandon his social commentary centered designs in favor of his most pared-back garments to date

To say that all eyes were on Balenciaga this season would be a massive understatement. After a series of two ad campaigns towards the end of last year, Balenciaga and Creative Director Demna were at the helm of a PR nightmare, with many calling into question the ethics of the brand as well as the need for a massive shift in the historic fashion house. After a long term break from the internet, Demna broke his silence in February with a Vogue interview, where he took accountability for the wrongdoings of the fashion house’s ad campaigns, announced a three-year partnership with the National Children’s Alliance, and explained that for his fall 2023 collection he would be going back to the basics.

The venue for Balenciaga’s Fall 2023 Ready-to-Wear Collection, the all-white Parisian classic show space of the Carrousel du Louvre, already proved to be a markedly large shift from their last presentation that took place in a large-scale mud pit. Show notes ahead of the collection consisted of a letter from Demna, reading “Fashion has become a kind of entertainment, but often that part overshadows the essence of it, which lays in shapes and volumes, silhouettes, the way we create relationships between body and fabric, the way we make shoulder lines and armholes, the way clothes have an ability to change us.” 

What followed was the designer’s most pared-back collection of all time, with nary a logo in sight. Opening the collection was a host of tailored looks, oversized in traditional Demna fashion, and constructed out of pants. Trouser waistlines had been flipped into hems of tailored jackets, or turned on their heads to create pant cuffs. The trousers themselves are left loose-fitting and doubled, creating a visual blur that looks like a fluid display of two sets of legs.

A puffer coat, jersey zip-up sweatshirt, tracksuit, and motocross jacket have all been constructed with sewn-in inflatable forms. These pieces, inspired by extreme athleticism, are quite simple garments with a subtle deformation that gives the body an interesting silhouette. The only other enticing moment, or moments, of silhouette in the collection were the reappearing bulbous shoulder pads that were employed in the vast majority of the latter half of the collection. These shoulder pads were placed under a myriad of garments from silk georgette draped dresses to track jackets to faux fur coats.

The closing seven looks of the collection were a dip into the more traditional ideas surrounding the fashion house, with Demna exploring the codes of eveningwear that were paramount to the designs of Cristobal Balenciaga. Containing the aforementioned shoulder pads, were a host of gowns that contained crystallized fringe, sequin embellishment, and skin revealing lace, all of which were finished by a bow tied around the waist.

Demna was quite clear in his assertion that he did not want to make gimmick-oriented clothing this season, honing-in on his lifelong adoration of clothing — yet in actuality, the collection feels like a highlight reel of the designer’s best logo-less looks plucked from his collections over the past few years. There are moments of intrigue, i.e. motocross footwear or the impact-ready padded garments, but overall the show consisted of looks that were safe rather than compelling. Luckily for Demna, his decision to walk away from fashion as a form of entertainment falls right in line with the largely wardrobe-centered season that has unfolded over the past month. Unfortunately for us, this walk away from virality has led to a loss of the isms that have previously situated Demna as one of the most clever social commentators within the industry. 

Clothing that is made out of the pure love of fashion itself does not have to necessitate an ignorance of the world that surrounds us; it’s quite the opposite, actually. Love of fashion is inherently a love for the ways in which clothing speaks to the state of our world at a specific point in time. Yes, a shakeup in the collections created by Demna is needed, yet taking a completely opposite stance on the purpose of fashion from one season to the next would be an impossible task for almost any designer. Optimistically, one can hope that this collection is a sort of ground zero for the designer to compound his new vision for the brand.

That being said, the possibility of a less logo-driven Balenciaga is still an exciting prospective future for the brand. It was Balenciaga’s Spring 2020 Ready-to-Wear Collection where Demna concluded a show full of his archetypal designs with the presentation of absolutely massive crinoline gowns in emerald-hued velours and light-catching metallics. The tension that he explored then, between high-fashion and the potent conceptuality of putting more everyday-centered looks on the runway, is where Demna’s promise as a designer has, is, and hopefully continues to be inspiring.

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