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From the moment Demna Gvasalia took control of the house that Cristóbel Balenciaga built, the Georgia-born creative director has gone about renovating it from the inside out, inviting a new generation to experience the founder's legacy, but most powerfully, evolving our understanding of what high fashion means both today and tomorrow.
In recent seasons, his Balenciaga shows have been a reaction to the state of the world with collections that explore everything from power politics to the climate crisis, dress codes to fetishism. For autumn/winter 20, Balenciaga flooded a Paris film studio with a liquid inspired by petrol, partially submerging the first few rows of chairs and forcing fashion’s elite to watch the gabber-soundtracked apocalyptic performance at a distance. Models stormed and splashed down the soaked runway, illuminated by a giant LED screen whose projections veered between frothing oceans, raging flames and frantic birds. As we return to the show against the backdrop of a global pandemic and raging climate crisis, it’s clear that Demna’s vision is seemingly all-seeing and all-knowing.
Then, while we were all living through a global pandemic-altered dystopia, the Georgia-born creative director presented an optimistic and hopeful Balenciaga spring/summer 21 collection that repositioned the fashion show as a music video. Models strutted through a half-deserted Paris to BFRND’s cover of Corey Hart’s Sunglasses At Night. The collection itself continued Demna’s long-standing interest in the intersection of comfort and couture, an elevated everyday that utilises the dramatic silhouettes of Cristobal Balenciaga’s couture work towards ubiquitous as denim jackets and tracksuits. As models mouthed along to the repurposed 1983-hit, the intention was to showcase “a wearable wardrobe” transposed onto “darkened streets during a time when Fashion Week would typically light up Paris,” as the shownotes explained.
Then, just this week, Balenciaga unveiled Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, an immersive video – made in collaboration with Unreal Engine, the games engine of Epic Games – to showcase its spring/summer 21 collection. Players are transported to “a virtual utopia” set in 2031, where they begin their journey in a retail space before taking a bus to Afterworld into a forest populated by secret ravers and navigating through mountains and challenges, meeting avatars wearing all 50 looks from the collection. “The narrative of Afterworld is anchored to mythological pasts and projected futures with timeless archetypes and speculative imagery,” explained the release. “The world may appear to be decaying at first, but it is far from a dystopian view, showing instead the slow return to a healthier balance of nature and industry.” While once again reimagining the fashion show for the 21st century, Demna provided the allegory we all needed, presenting a parallel world that we all want to escape inside.
As Demna’s Balenciaga continues to shake up our high fashion senses, LN-CC places its own distorting lens over this brave new world. Here, London-based photographer Raphael Bliss shoots the first Balenciaga delivery of the spring/summer 21 season in spaces around our Dalston HQ on models that aren’t quite what they appear.
Photography: Raphael Bliss,@raphaelbliss
Models: Cecilia Micchinelli @c.micchi
Matthew Alexander @sweetlikejockel8te
Ellie Walker @ellie.walker