'I wanted to express the idea of artificial legs - robot legs," says the Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquiere of his full-metal "leggings", which have proved among the most written- and talked- about pieces of this spring/ summer season.
It's not difficult to see why. Even by designer-fashion standards, these leggings are extreme, which is precisely what might be expected from one of the world's most forward-thinking designers. "We had a lot of documentation on robots from comics, movies, Japanese artists, so everything was mixed," Ghesquiere explains, going on to protest, "They're not so unwearable..." But the distinct feeling is that he is all too aware of the fact that only very few people are ever likely to agree with him. "You could wear them with a T-shirt," he continues. "They're more modern than an evening dress. I think they're quite interesting."
They are indeed. They are also perhaps the most overt statement to date of this designer's interest in futurism and, in particular, in the future as seen through the eyes of the past. Let's not forget that everything from ocean-printed neoprene-effect second skin to direct references to the costumes of David Lynch's Dune has already been plundered for inspiration by Ghesquiere.
When the army of spring/ summer 2007 Balenciaga-clad models first emerged on to the Paris catwalk, in September last year, in skinny tailored jackets with gleaming strips of black vinyl at the shoulder, knitted copper goddess dresses, sunglasses that might appear more at home in a glamorous laboratory, and more ( right), the melancholically beautiful android in Fritz Lang's Metropolis sprang to mind.
"It wasn't Metropolis, though," Ghesquiere explains, "but the generation after Metropolis, the generation inspired by Metropolis to make The Terminator and Tron." It is, of course, no coincidence that both of those science-fiction blockbusters came out of the 1980s. Ghesquiere is more than a little interested in this particular decade, which was, after all, the time when he grew up. More Eighties references in this collection include BMX chains snaking their way round super-elevated platform-soled shoes, and toughened-leather biker jackets and matching, ultra-stiff A-line skirts.
The fascination with futurism as seen through that era in the current Balenciaga collection (which, incidentally, Ghesquiere is blithely willing to concede is "not, in fact, so summery") doesn't stop there. Take as a further example the prints. The first is inspired by the circuitry of a computer, the second is a magnified image of human cells.
"What is interesting for me is to look at an expression of the future as it was perceived 20 years ago," Ghesquiere explains. "And then to abstract that which, I hope, evokes a feeling of looking to the future from our point of view today."
In particular, this effect takes full flight in the almost perverse desire, throughout the collection, to "plasticise" what are, in fact, more often than not traditional couture fabrics rather than hi-tech ones. …