When was the last time the house of Balenciaga showcased a floor-length gown? The only instance that comes to mind was over a year ago when Cate Blanchett hit the Costume Institute Met Gala’s red carpet in a stunning gold goddess gown, arm in arm with the designer, Nicolas Ghesquiere. Gowns may have been the atelier’s bread and butter in the days of Cristobal, but under the direction of Ghesquiere the gowns have been very few and far between. The Maison’s modern day calling card is not so much space-age sportswear, as many would be quick to relay, but at a more elemental level, it’s about the constant surprise factor. You never really know what Ghesquiere will stumble upon in the brand’s rich archives.
What he found were costumes Cristobal Balenciaga had created for a ballet performance of Ravel’s Bolero. But this was not your easily traceable Black Swan foray ala J. Mendel and countless other designers over the past year or two. Grace was the prime extraction. The white sleeveless column dress, the collection’s first look, was soft, yes, but it also had bite. It is dreamily beautiful, yet powerful in its almost monolithic quality. Notice the décolletage cut-out; not your typical snip job. There’s a real sculptural quality to these Rorschach seeming shapes.
There was a beguiling compromise of softness and strength in the group’s other gown, a bergamot cap-sleeved floor number with a black molded leather harness. That soft and hard interplay is catching steam in the hearts of fashionistas as of late. It was a prime motif in Raf Simons’ final collection for Jil Sander, and much like that heralded showcase, this Balenciaga outing feels more palpably ‘haute couture’ than anything we’ve seen from Ghesquiere since perhaps his neoprene bouquet days.
Not all offerings were so easy to digest. The scuba-sleeved muumuus in lilac, others in blue, were distractingly frumpy and the boxy, cropped jackets were only for the most adventurous of Balenciaga customers, following in the same vein of last March’s finely detailed football sweaters with exaggerated flanges on the sleeves.
The best look was a harness top that appeared molded out of a dark blue jersey over a white tee paired with a high-waisted pinstripe wool trouser. Its analogue in black leather and beige pants was equally chic. These looks were Balenciaga through the real-world consumer prism, i.e – looks that thousands of women would love to get behind, harnesses and all. The suiting also looked equally sensual, sans top, only the glimmer of a baby blue bandeau bra showing underneath.