Balenciaga will return to the Paris haute couture schedule in July 2020 for the first time since Cristóbal Balenciaga himself closed his atelier in 1968. Current creative director Demna Gvasalia will make his couture debut at the autumn/winter 2020 shows in a move that will offer “another spectrum of possibilities in dressmaking.”
“Haute couture is the very foundation of this house, so it is my creative and visionary duty to bring couture back,” Gvasalia said, in a statement released by the house on 20 January, the first day of the spring/summer 2020 couture shows. “For me, couture is an unexplored mode of creative freedom and a platform for innovation. It not only offers another spectrum of possibilities in dressmaking, it also brings the modern vision of Balenciaga back to its sources of origin.”
Cristóbal Balenciaga was known as the undisputed king of couture: Christian Dior called him “the master of us all,” while Coco Chanel said he alone was “a couturier in the truest sense of the word… The others are simply fashion designers.” Revered for the regal simplicity and exquisite craftsmanship of his clothes, his sculptural designs and heart-stopping elegant shows in the 1960s, in particular, drew raptures from the fashion press. As the former American Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, who referred to Balenciaga as “the prophet”, put it: “One fainted. It was possible to blow up and die. I remember at one show in the early 1960s… Audrey Hepburn turned to me and asked why I wasn’t frothing at the mouth at what I was seeing. I told her I was trying to act calm and detached because, after all, I was a member of the press. Across the way Gloria Guinness was sliding out of her chair on to the floor. Everyone was going up in foam and thunder.”
Gvasalia has, in fact, had a bash at couture before: the final nine looks from the autumn/winter 2017 ready-to-wear show were pulled from the founder’s archive, reissued and offered on a made-to-measure basis to coincide with the house’s centenary year. At the time, Gvasalia said he’d gone about creating them by reinterpreting designs he had seen in archive photographs from the 1950s (none of the gowns existed in the archives).
“At first, we tried to do things with them, but I thought it was too much,” he told Vogue. “So I wanted to keep it pure.” The only additions he made were the switching up of fabrics – one gown was made from a technical nylon he had used for a parka the previous season – plus pockets and giant matching bags. The response from the press was suitably rapturous. One can only imagine the frothing and foaming that will occur when he makes his official debut in July.