Thursday, February 28, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: Balenciaga's Aquawomen

Certain material tends to be used for certain apparel that is associated with certain minority pursuits. This is the long way around saying that latex is used for fetish clothing and fetish activities, whatever they may be. They may take more forms than you imagine.

Nicolas Ghesquière is known for maintaining form across his collections for Balenciaga. He is also known for working with an assortment of non-traditional materials like latex, plastic, and foam. How these have found a commercial home outside dungeons is one of fashion's bravest stories. Ghesquière mixes textures and impacts: rough/smooth, dull/shiny, matte/satin. He does this without pandering to fetish, an interest best left to the young, club-going English designers.

Ghesquière is also a master sculptor who goes far beyond a simple understanding of anatomy. If you were to give him, say, the contrapposto statue of David, he would clothe it impeccably, but he would also take into account the tautness of David's physique and the fact that--energetically--the right side of the statue differs markedly from the left.

A master designer would not stop there, however. There must be obstacles. Once David had been clothed according to modern mores and necessities, the designer might take on the challenge of the upper torso of the Venus de Milo, even if the waistband of her skirt suspiciously resembles one recently paraded down the runway by Yohji Yamamoto.

Challenges like these are too fundamental for someone of Ghesquière's advanced skill set, so for Fall 2008 he showed a collection with what looked like a creative abstraction of phylogeny, or evolutionary history. With the patent leather and latex that paraded down his catwalk, Ghesquière became a phylogenetic visionary. Either that or he was very much influenced by scuba divers.

Most designers will shape clothing more or less to standard human anatomy, unless they hope to remain in that potentially deadly category known as cult. Occasionally one of the more creative will take an aggressive artistic stance that is acceptable because of historical or cultural imperatives, but the rest will founder as their fan base marries and moves to the suburbs. These designers are generally in that group of artists who are unable to forsake momentary impulse for later financial success.

At Balenciaga, Ghesquière has spent a season or two retooling hips, and for Fall 2008 he has done the same with arms. Four months ago, he foreshadowed new arm treatments in his spring collection, but it wasn't until the fall grouping that he disconnected arms from the skeletal frame.

Short jackets cut from latex and heavy wool had the curious effect of making the arms look boneless and the shoulders appear as the sloped trunk of a salmon, as if both regions had undergone a reverse evolution to earlier taxa. Legs remained in evolutionary stasis, that is, they were one with us. Evolution, you see, is best accomplished slowly. The curious shape makes one wonder if Ghesquière imagines this as the ideal human form in another million years or whether these were simply impulsive aquawomen. It also fuels the conjecture that so-called conventional shapes may have no future applicability.

Beyond science, there was also an artistic question related to Impressionist painting: Does nature impress Ghesquière or is he making his own impression on nature? This new collection seems to argue for the latter, which would mean that his inspiration is not from the external world but has sprung up as mysteriously as life itself.

Dresses that conformed more literally to the body's outline caused an inescapable association with wet suits and the odd way that wet suits enhance the breastplate. Speaking of breastplates, they were there too, on the front of those very dresses, as shield-like voids in the middle of barren Japanese forests. Sound complicated? It wasn't. It just was.

Patent leather coats also demanded adaptation. These were garments that require the body to comply with their limitations if flattering silhouette were to be achieved across a full range of movement. Since this seems desirable, the coats were a bit counterintuitive; the inflexibility of patent leather means that the garment remains in place while the body turns. They would cry out to be hung up on airplanes, where looking chic was once an international requirement.

Ghesquière's loyal and considerable following will find much to wear in the remainder of the collection, most outstandingly in the form of a black cocktail dress with scalpel neckline and ridge-like peplum. Since this garment appeared to have been built for neither evolutionary exercise nor deep-sea diving, it feels like the safety of land.

Images: Style.com

11 comments:

susie_bubble said...

It is increasingly fantastic/odd that Ghesquiere can do no wrong even with car interior body moulding material....
His team behind him are a solid unit though...

Suzanna Mars said...

Once again, SB, you've nailed it. I do think, though, that the cocktail dress was smashing, if seemingly concessionary.

K.Line said...

Ah, Suzanna: Gotta love a blog I need to read with a dictionary. Thanks for teaching me the word "phylogeny"! We seem to be on the same wavelength - my post for tomorrow is also about Balenciaga (though, just to be contrary and behind the times, it's a slice and dice of the Spring collection.)

From this Fall collection, I love that cocktail dress which, I totally agree, seems concessionary in that it allows the shape of the human body to trump the imposed silhouette. Thanks, as always, for a delicious post. K

WendyB said...

You know I'm always happy to see more latex.

Suzanna Mars said...

WB, you are an innovator while the rest of us are lightyears behind! What's next after butt bows and latex?

riz said...

I am with Wendyb =) No but seriously, he is one of the few deigners who are working intensely with fabric in dynamic new ways. Do you know much about morphology and architecture??

Suzanna Mars said...

Riz, we'll leave the scholastic posts to you! I'm just your average hack.

Imelda Matt said...

This man can do no wrong...although the menswear leaves me slightly confused but that's off topic.

iñaki said...

I am ever so happy to find that there are people up there willing not only to see beyond, but to go beyond.

I must say your blog, or rather your writing, is absolutely inspiring to me. Whenever doubt assaults me, making unclear why I want to be a fashion journalist, I just come to the Style Snatcher.

xx

enc said...

I've always felt that Ghesquière breaks ground with his ideas, but in a restrained way. He's a huge innovator, like Lacroix or Galliano, but he doesn't execute in their OTT style. I like his subversive expression.

STARVING.DUD said...

it's pretty surprising so little attention was focused on his usage of jewelry, which i believe is a big bell ring this time. just in time suzy menkes of the IHT can't stop promoting the idea that jewelry is the next IT-bag (or the black or anything with the CC-logo) Balenciaga , who has had some excitement with their bags, which are even not shown during the shows, splits into this new and comparably savage territory. can Balenciaga conquer a share in this segment of luxury market time will show, but now it was a breath of fresh air to see those chuckles made of silver metallics and pearls, accompanied with necklaces over THE super-futuristic new shapes. they toned down the aggressive mood of the show, brought some good old vibe into it, which, in a game of contrasts, made the total vision super-chic, super-organic, yet not lunatic.