With the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, it's completely understandable (in fact, it's a given) to question why fashion week in Europe is still going on. The industry, however, has been slowly but surely responding to the atrocities happening in Ukraine in more ways than one.
For Balenciaga's artistic director Demna, the situation is a reminder of what he experienced before he even hit his teenage years. "The war in Ukraine has triggered the pain of a past trauma I have carried in me since 1993, when the same thing happened in my home country and I became a forever refugee. Forever, because that's something that stays in you," reads the beginning of the statement Demna released ahead of the Balenciaga winter 2022 show.
He ended with: "This show needs no explanation. It is a dedication to fearlessness, to resistance, and to the victory
of love and peace."
And in many ways, it was. Demna's shows for Balenciaga have been unorthodox of late—the winter 2022 show was perhaps the most unorthodox one yet. Instead of the usual barrier-less set where nothing obscures models and clothes from the attendees, the runway was effectively enclosed in a life-sized snow globe. Within it was a synthetically manufactured storm that grew in intensity as the show went on, battering the models as they walked the inside perimeter of the space. There was resistance, there was a gradation of light to dark as the storm grew, and at the end, there was the almost triumphant conclusion that all the models made it safely to the other side. If that wasn't a clear enough metaphor for Demna's current hopes, I'm not sure how else it could have been more beautifully and poetically executed.
Look and feel: The Balenciaga winter 2022 collection may have looked simple and pared back (an intentional design decision) but it's peppered with innovative and eco-conscious alternatives. The idea of a possible future where the natural can be manipulated and simulated (the weather being an obvious manifestation of that theme) was also translated in the materials that were used. In almost post-apocalyptic fashion, faux fur feather boas were actually crafted from frayed organza while a mycelium-based material called EPHEA™ (exclusively developed for Balenciaga) formed a floor-length coat that could potentially be a more viable substitute for leather.
But in essence, it was typical Balenciaga by Demna. All the body-morphing silhouettes were there—cuttingly oversized hoodies and tailoring, pointy fisherman leather boots fitted with stiletto-like heels, and gender-blurring ideas that for menswear, opened with a bandeau top.
Favourite looks: Even looking at the runway images, pointing out details of each look is quite a task. But I'm partial to Demna's tailoring at Balenciaga (it honestly remains one of the best in the business in terms of how exaggerated they are but still wearable) and will have to gravitate towards looks 16 and 18. The former was a taupe suit fastened almost fully to the side and paired with those aforementioned pointed high-cut boots—an odd pairing perhaps but somehow made perfect sense in the moment. Look 18 was similar but done in a sufficiently oversized coat that gave the illusion of a bulkier frame and once again, supplemented by the collection's key boots.
Favourite accessories: There were a couple of oversized bags that stole the show. For me, it was look 42's footwear that caught my eye. Sure, the model was clad in a look that was wholly inappropriate to be walking in a weather of that nature, but the shoes he paired them with—the HD sneaker—seemed to make that trudge to the other side almost easy. The show notes describe the HD sneaker as a lace-up made from a flexible, solid piece and it definitely did look like the perfect snow shoes. Where would I be wearing them, you may ask? Looking at the current state of the world, I'm not holding my breath for common sense to return anytime soon anyway…