Balenciaga’s Haute Couture Collection Pays Homage to Subcultures

Four Reference Points  

Balenciaga’s latest couture collection paid tribute to the euphoric world of subculture. The collection fused casual with theatrical at the brand’s regular hosting grounds, 10 Avenue George V. In this journey, four permanent components of Cristobal Balenciaga’s last two decades of collections were applied; three-quarter length sleeves, a focus on garment profiles and cocoon shapes, extravagant headwear, and fabric innovation. These elements all come to life by marrying Balenciaga’s signature silhouettes with the personal style of Creative Director Demna, where the relationship between fabric, form, garment, and the body is central to the development process. 

The four principles paint a larger picture of the brand’s ethos and adventurous take. For example, the cocoon silhouette emphasizes the space between the garment and the body. Three-quarter-length sleeves grace a hoodie and T-shirt hand-painted by the artist Abdelhak Benallou, and the headwear features hand-draped and frozen-in-resin T-shirts in collaboration with the artist Ni Hao.

The Union of Subcultures

With this being the 53rd Balenciaga couture collection, a savoir-faire theme was illuminated by focusing on original techniques and material innovation. Subcultures of streetwear, goth, skater, and metalhead were also referenced, but with a minimalistic yet glamorous take. Oversized silhouettes, flannel patterns, jerseys, graphic tees, and excessive layering bring to life those reference points. 

Looking back on those four archival principles, one can see how they have been modernized and reimagined (evident from the first look onwards). Here, a minimalist and sharp t-shirt is reworked with black scuba satin. With this simplistic opening, a Warhol-esque inspiration is pulled into question. One where, according to the show notes, whether the base commodity is a can of soup or an everyday shirt, Demna is interested in not only the object but the various techniques and precisions that go into elevating the object and transforming it into a piece of art. Here, an everyday t-shirt is subject to that mystification.  

Fabric Choices 

The selection of fabrics used throughout this collection was experimental and eclectic. A “trompe l’oeil fur couture coiffing coat” is made of synthetic hair shaped and hand-dyed by the renowned hairstylist Gary Gill, which took approximately 2.5 months to create and developed purely for this garment. Some models were seen wearing butterfly masks, which took hundreds of hours of meticulous hand-embroidery inspired by the artist Yumi Okita.

Courtesy of Balenciaga

A white column dress is interestingly composed of melted and upcycled plastic bags, with some holding their original graphic and logos. A draped dress is made from one piece of leather, held only with a giant safety pin. Meanwhile, a bustier dress is created with aluminum foil, crunched and moulded to the body. A faux fur dress is even built using traditional fur patternmaking, a centuries-old tradition of reusing scrap fabrics that took around 7.5 weeks to produce. Intentionality is sewn into the fabric choices, weaving notions of body movement and interaction to determine structural dynamics.   

The Closing Act

The final piece of the collection is an ephemeral black nylon dress that only exists for one event: the haute couture catwalk. The creation is made of 47 meters of fabric and carefully assembled by the couture atelier team through direct alignment around the person’s body. The team drapes, sculpts, and staples the fabric directly around the subject’s body for visual intent. It is destined to be made only once and takes approximately 30 minutes to construct, but it dissolves in 30 seconds. 

Meanwhile, the other six closing looks examined the materials’ extent and creative possibilities, demonstrating the evolution of fabric by rethinking their relationship to the body. This line of thinking was a core focus of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s work and was uniquely documented in a video series to correspond with the couture show. The films documented singular garments and the historical techniques used by the House mixed with the stylistic tactics of today. 

Celebrity Mother-daughter Duos

Of course, a Balenciaga show isn’t complete without a star-studded attendance. Alongside Katy Perry, Charli XCX, Ashley Graham, and Kerry Washington. There was also an influx of mother-daughter duos, including Maya Rudolph with Pearl Minnie Anderson and Nicole Kidman and Sunday Rose, who wore matching looks.