Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna, explains the house’s new direction – ignore the hype, from now on it’s just about the clothes
Creating a stir has always been Balenciaga’s specialty – major shows, celebrity appearances, all designed to get people talking. But that all changed with the AW23 preview recently. There was no particular theme, no dramatic lighting or music, no famous faces – just a simple toile-covered runway, a white backdrop, and a sedate guitar and piano soundtrack. With nothing to serve as a distraction, all of the attention fell on the actual clothes, which for Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna (he has referred to himself by a single name since 2021), is the point.
Some may cite the recent media storm surrounding two controversial advertising campaigns as the reason for the pared-back approach, but for Demna the situation merely underlined an observation he had made recently – that people were talking more about the Balenciaga hype, the shows and the famous faces, than the clothes and accessories themselves. “Fashion has become a kind of entertainment, but often that part overshadows the essence of it,” he said at the AW23 show. “Fashion to me can no longer be seen as entertainment, but rather as the art of making clothes.”
It must be frustrating, as a fashion designer, to work hard on a collection, only for the audience sitting next to the catwalk to only focus on how it was presented, or take to social media to indulge in the hype and sensationalism. This is something Demna wanted to change, and was already putting a plan in place before the two campaigns basically proved his point. For AW23, there is a strong chance that the clothing was remembered this time: the structured tailoring, alien sportswear, bug-eyed sunglasses, denim layers and oversized jackets, yet still echoing the codes instilled by founder Cristóbal Balenciaga. So can we expect more of the same going forward? And what does this new direction mean for collaborations, such as the Balenciaga x Adidas collection last summer, featuring sneakers and sportswear, as wouldn’t that also draw attention away from the core product? We sat down with Demna to find out more.
Can we expect any collaborations this season, like the recent one with Adidas? Or the continuation of some key items, like the Space Shoe?
Yes, of course, we can expect anything. Fashion needs to surprise us and be exciting, so anything is possible, as long as it’s about making a good product that creates desire in someone.
Your AW23 catwalk show really took people by surprise. It was so simple and basic compared to the shows of the past. Why is this now the right approach?
I think fashion has become more about shows and buzz, rather than clothes. My work has always been about design. However, for a while I played the game of making big conceptual shows, until it put the essence of my work into shadow. This is why now I want to take distance from the entertainment part of it. My work is always about evolving craft and experimenting with shapes and techniques, and now I will have more time to do so, and to deepen my research about dressmaking.
What are you doing differently that you weren’t doing before?
In the Winter 23 collection, I totally reconnected to my beginnings as a designer, and it made me very happy and fulfilled to rediscover the source of my interest in clothing. I found not only comfort in it but also an endless source of new inspiration.
In terms of the craftsmanship, and the art of the clothes themselves, how will this change with regards the new approach? Are we going to see more experimentation?
I enjoy exploring new shapes and silhouettes, and the distance between the garment and the body. And of course I believe that introducing new technologies into traditional dressmaking is an important challenge, and something that I am always very excited to experiment with.
You’ve worked for Balenciaga since 2015 – how does it set itself apart from other high-end fashion brands? Will the new approach to the shows help in that regard?
I do not know much about other fashion brands, and I am not very interested in fashion around me in general. I am not sure how my new approach needs to set Balenciaga apart from other brands, because we are already very much apart. What I do here is purely about making fashion and evolving it, not creating influence or buzz.
You’ve spoken about honouring the legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga before. What are some of the ways you’re looking to do this?
I often refer to my beginning as a designer to my own references in which I find many links to the fundamentals of the aesthetics of Mr Balenciaga.
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