Absurd, not Avant-Garde
As he continues to make a mockery of heritage high fashion, how long will Demna Gvasalia’s reign at Balenciaga last?
While few heritage fashion houses look the same as they did in their infancy, most have tried to bridge the gap between old and new while paying homage to the brand’s original aesthetic. From Raf Simons at Dior to Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, these designers acted as stewards of their houses, drawing on the label’s history to curate the perfect blend of classic style and modern influence. By incorporating signature silhouettes, color schemes, and textiles favored by creative directors past, these designers made heritage houses timeless beacons of style in a sea of aggressively modern, tastelessly avant-garde fashion.
Enter: Demna Gvasalia; the enemy of timeless elegance.
During his time at Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia has flatly rejected this stewardship. After starting his own brand, Vetements, a minimalist streetwear label, he was appointed creative director of Balenciaga in 2015, succeeding American designer Alexander Wang. The Georgian designer started out strong, successfully highlighting his signature streetwear style while incorporating some of Balenciaga’s original silhouettes for the house’s Fall 2016 and 2017 collections. From boxy suit jackets paired with over-the-knee leather boots to exquisitely tailored trousers with neon ski jackets and embellished heels, Gvasalia, known as just “Demna,” expertly coordinated Balenciaga’s heritage looks with his own aesthetic.
From 1-3: Balenciaga Fall 2016 RTW; 4-7: Balenciaga Fall 2017 RTW. Photo credit: Vogue Runway
However, his genius quickly faded. As his Vetements tendencies began to overpower the eponymous French maison, so too did his love for horror and the surreal. For the brand’s Fall 2020 ready-to-wear show, Demna completely overhauled the house’s image, presenting an almost entirely black and horrifically macabre collection with nightmare fueling looks. A far cry from Cristobal Balenciaga’s playful patterns, whimsical silhouettes, and iconic pastels, Demna paraded freakish “models“ with blacked out eyes, filed teeth, and claw-like nails down a flooded runway in head-to-toe nylon ponchos, black velour tracksuits, spandex turtleneck dresses, and floor-grazing leather trenches.
From 1-7: Balenciaga Fall 2020 RTW. Photo credit: Vogue Runway
Since then, each one of Demna’s collections has become darker, eerily mimicking the downward spiral of Alexander McQueen’s line prior to his death in 2011. Not only that, but each collection and the pieces within it, gaudy and terrifying as they are, have become loaded with sarcastic, vague, and divisive commentary about the fashion industry and the state of the world more broadly. From his infamous “snow globe show,” in which he condemned the United States for not doing more to help Ukraine, to his most recent “mud pit show,” designed to critique our obsession with high fashion and uncannily reminiscent of McQueen’s haunting Horn of Plenty show, Demna continues to create designs aimed more at making a sociopolitical statement than a fashion statement.
1: Balenciaga Fall 2020 RTW; 2 + 5: Balenciaga Resort 2023; 3: Balenciaga Fall/Winter 2022; 4: Kim Kardashian at the house’s Fall/Winter 2022 show. Photo Credits: Vogue.
Unfortunately, consumer response has been strong.
With celebrity approval from the likes of Kim Kardashian and Cardi B, Balenciaga has risen in popularity on Instagram and Tik Tok, with many Gen-Z consumers applauding Demna’s painfully minimalist, grunge-chic style.
However, with spandex, Shein-like boots and would-be Oakley sunglasses retailing for upwards of $1,200 purely because of their Balenciaga logos, and Demna’s increasingly erratic and disturbing designs, consumer fascination has begun to diminish, with many decrying the upstart designer’s price gouging, veiled messaging, and unsavory connections with divisive figures like Kanye West.
Ultimately, regardless of Balenciaga’s social media popularity, it’s time for Demna to go back to Vetements. With a waning cult folllowing and designs whose classification as “fashion” is debatable at best, the asburdist designer’s reign of terror at Balenciaga must end before he completely erases the house’s historic image in favor of his frighteningly post-apocalyptic vision and painfully hypocritical social commentary.
This isn’t fashion, this is feckless.