Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A New Balenciaga, but Not Set in Marble

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A New Balenciaga, but Not Set in Marble

Article excerpt

Alexander Wang's debut collection was a promising start.

Haute couture is already a distant myth for a generation that looks back in wonder to high fashion's glory years. So it is not surprising that two young designers -- at Balenciaga and Balmain -- unleashed their dreams.

One was haute, the other hot -- but both, in their way, captured that elusive spirit of fashion at its highest extremities.

With its round, sculpted shoulders, narrow hips, a coal black elegance and white marble patterns, Alexander Wang's first outing at Balenciaga on Thursday was a fine effort.

In fact, it looked effortless, as though the designer, at only 29 years old, had reached the essence of what the famous couturier stood for: sculpted elegance.

From the point of view of Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive of the brand's owner, PPR, the collection must have been heaven sent: distinctly Balenciaga, with no traces of the wilder and woollier downtown spirit that Mr. Wang shows in New York. And for the buyers, this wearable but distinguished show must be a palpable hit.

So, first and foremost -- hats off to Mr. Wang, even if the only headgear in his show were little wraps pulled over the flat hair. There were other accessories: boots with metallic clips used as decoration, and would-be graceful shoes, held to the instep with an awkward, thin strap. They came in the marble print that covered the runway and also appeared as printed or beaded dresses.

All this was a promising start. Yet there is still some way to climb the mountain of Balenciaga's heritage -- which must include the outgoing designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, who flew off to Los Angeles on Thursday morning but left behind a history of bold, imaginative, sometimes weird, hard-to-sell but brilliant interpretations of the couture master, mostly from that designer's surprisingly radical period in the 1960s.

Mr. Wang looked primarily at the great Cristobal couture years -- as he should -- but without being too reverential. From that he took a sense of architecture, well executed, give or take a curved neckline that trapped the arms and bodice draping that is hard to pull off in ready-to-wear. …

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