This morning Alexander Wang claimed that, for Balenciaga AW13, he was going back to the brand’s roots. Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane did this last season with their gentle invocations to the Dior/Saint Laurent archives — playing it safe, perhaps, but the general consensus was that it worked — and maybe that’s why Wang chose to tread a similar path with his own debut for an esteemed fashion house. Did the designer come out of it as well as Simons and Slimane? Nicholas Ghesqière’s shoes are difficult to fill, especially when his successor is a 29-year-old whose eponymous American label is known for its youthful spirit and sporty styles. Upon discovering that he was going to be replaced by someone who wouldn’t be averse to sending blinged-up sweatpants down the catwalk, the fashion industry collectively wept. Fine, I’m exaggerating, but it’s true that lots of people were pretty confused by Wang being hired to head up a brand that didn’t seem at all in tune with his own.
If today’s show was anything, it was a big ‘fuck you’ to all the cynics. Wang was on good form, proving his seriousness about this new gig. Cristobal Balenciaga’s work is something I’m no expert on, but I know enough to be able to say that Wang really did his research: the petal skirts and the cocoon coats say it all. The collection was definitely not an exercise in groundbreaking design, but it was beautiful. Everything looks better close up, of course, because then you can really appreciate the glorious fabrics and textures. The marbled pieces were interesting in their uniqueness, and they translated really well on the white knitwear; black paint made otherwise dull pieces look structural and edgy. The construction of the white tops, with those origami-like folds, was perfect. In terms of accessories, the simple silver cuffs complemented the looks well (especially the all-black ensembles with silver detailing in the bodice area) and the bags were small, structured, sensible. The shoes looked a little uncomfortable but they were unlike anything I’ve seen before and, providing I don’t ever have to wear them, I like them a lot.
It will be nice to see where Alexander (and, indeed, Raf and Hedi) will go next. Being the newcomer is never easy, whether you’ve been hired at McDonalds or at one of the biggest names in fashion, and everyone needs time to settle in. Thankfully, all three designers are experienced — Wang, less so, but he still knows what he’s doing — and it’s only a matter of time before they all come into their own and carve out their own signature aesthetic for the massive brands they’re now responsible for. And that’s when things will really get interesting.