The last-minute front-row appearance of one-year-old North West in a blackYeezus tee and diamond earrings threatened to upstage the clothes chez Balenciaga. But then, in a dramatic coup de théâtre, the runway—a reworking of a classical French-tiled floor—was illuminated from below, revealing swirling eddies of dry ice. Alexander Wang’s girls were walking on air in their cutaway wedge-heeled shoes.
“We started thinking a lot this season about opulence,” Wang told me during a preview on the eve of his Balenciaga show, “with the mood feeling very . . . restrained in fashion lately, we thought, Let’s go indulgent!”
This meant exploring the magnificent embellishments that Cristóbal Balenciaga was famed for. “The heritage of the house is purist and austere,” said Wang, “but such a large chapter was very artisanal and decorated.”
Wang also asked himself, How to inject functionality into that? The answer came from the streets of Paris—literally. Over the summer, while the designer was working on the collection, Tour de France fever consumed the city, so he used the inspiration of the cyclist’s functional clothing to “take the preciousness out” of those rich monochrome embroideries—with velvet ribbon flowers and bristling thickets of bugle beads sewn by their ends—by using them as bands across polo shirts and even the Croakies-like bands on his sunglasses. Bicycle chains even turned up as jewels in the form of necklaces and wrist bangle ropes.
He wove padded satin into overscale “athletic mesh,” in homage to Balenciaga’s famed fisherman’s-net evening coat, and mixed it with aerated sport-couture fabrics whose lozenges echoed the floors of Balenciaga’s old couture salon. Those polo shirts were also translated into chic, lean-line dresses with sophisticated chevron seaming. Micro shorts were an impactful evening statement for the gazelle-legged.
In the hand, some of the treatments were remarkable. “We’ve tried to contrast the things that feel very industrialized with a gentleness,” Wang said, “a little bit more tender and hand-touched.” This included an all-over mesh embroidery that turned out to have been painstakingly embroidered with polyester ribbons tied in knots, their edges burned to melt and seal them. The house of Balenciaga is clearly encouraging Alexander Wang to push the boundaries of couture research.