To the sound of a love poem voiced by AI, a breed of haute couture humanoids encased in black neoprene, their faces uniformly erased in high-tech reflective face shields, stalked the Balenciaga haute couture salon at the opening of its 51st show. It looked like an invasion by a sinister breed marching on their spiked, chiseled ‘space boots,’ ready to take over the earth once humanity has wiped itself out. Welcome again to the dystopian thrills of the Demna fashion multiverse.
It was his intro to his second couture collection for the house, which he shows annually. “This year I decided that I needed to put more of myself into it, and kind of find a new future, you know?” he said afterwards. “This is why the lineup started with very otherworldly, almost futuristic neoprene looks, which was my idea of interpreting gazar in 2022.” Invention, and taking time over it, is central to moving the art of couture forward. Famously, gazar was the sculptural silk which Cristobal Balenciaga invented with the fabric manufacturer Abrahams in 1958, in order to create the magnificently voluminous gowns he became known for. Demna’s equivalent—shaped into these wickedly fetishistic hyper-molded second-skin scuba dresses and tailored jackets—was engineered with a new kind of neoprene, made in collaboration with a Japanese manufacturer using, he noted, a “limestone” technique “which is more sustainable.”
The totally encased body is, of course, a highly recognizable Demna Balenciaga signature. Everyone, including the crowds of screaming fans who gathered outside the show, knows very well what Balenciaga pantaboots are, and how the famous body of his friend Kim Kardashian has been the silhouette vehicle of the house. They weren’t disappointed. In the second half of the show, where faces were revealed, she walked in a deep-plunge corset and draped skirt, along with friends and family of the house: Demna’s musician husband BFRND, Nicole Kidman, Dua Lipa, Naomi Campbell, and all the fierce character models who’ve been involved in his shows from the beginning.
But back to his motivation for a minute. Last season, Demna caused a sensation by dealing with the stark, tailored elegance of the Balenciaga couture aesthetic. Now, he was putting himself first—owning an haute couture version of the streetwear that he has been responsible for elevating to designer fashion status. Hoodies, sweatshirts, worn-out denim, and parkas— some made of upcycled originals, others shot with aluminium to create crinkled couture-like volumes—followed the dystopian Balenciaga neoprene tribe.