“The season really started with the idea of the original clientele,” explained Alexander Wang during a preview of his fall collection. He was referring, of course, to the legendary society swans dressed by Cristóbal Balenciaga, women like Mona Bismarck, Gloria Guinness, and Pauline de Rothschild who set the fashion in the mid-century world with their panache and personal style. But if he was daydreaming about these ladies and their rarefied lives, the ever pragmatic Wang was waking up to reality. “Fast-forward to today!” he said. “Who is the customer today?”
Lady Gaga for one, who appeared to open the show by vamping up the runway in a chic LBD, and her dark hair in a balletic chignon. She was followed by an army of chic rebels, who seemed to have taken their grandmother’s heirloom jewelry pieces—old diamond pins and brooches and rings—and repurposed them as ear piercings, or used them to fasten a coat or jacket to suggest a “spontaneous wrap feeling.” (They also skewered the gauntlet gloves, and the origami purse shaped like Balenciaga’s famed four-point gazar dress of 1967.)
The pencil skirts (some so tightly hobbled that the girls took dainty little pigeon steps in their clear plastic “X-ray classic pumps”) and the voluminous jackets, cut with careful, arcing seams, suggested the kind of clothes the swans kept in their cedar closets, but those seams were seemingly welded with staples, like the dressmaker pins that Balenciaga used to hold the toile pieces together during fittings. A classic fleck tweed looked as though a graffiti artist had embellished it with a stripe of fluorescent spray paint. Actually that effect was achieved—brilliantly—with painstaking jacquard effects.
In fact, nothing in the collection is quite what it seems. Inventive embroideries, for instance, create the illusion of feather or fur. Bugle beads sewn on their ends to tremble away from the garment resemble beaver fur. Silk cord dipped in silicone looks like the fringing of ostrich plumes that Balenciaga used in the sixties. Rubber strips woven into a textured Lurex brocade, meanwhile, effectively imitate astrakhan and the result appeared so luxe and heavy it may cost more than the furry original.
And those glittering platinum sequins used for the tiny bodice of a skirt bubbling like a pursed tulip? They are made from cut-up razor blades—“dangerous and subversive” as Wang said. Lady Gaga would surely approve.