Balenciaga’s big idea: this season’s fashion will benefit UN charity



Influential designer Demna Gvasalia unveils a collection with fashion as ‘tool of communication’






The Balenciaga show as part of Paris fashion week






The Balenciaga show as part of Paris fashion week.
Photograph: Estrop/Getty Images

Fashion’s most influential designer is sick of putting meaningless graphics on T-shirts. “I am tired of making prints for the sake of prints,” said Demna Gvasalia, backstage at his Balenciaga show in Paris on Sunday. “At this stage, if I do a T-shirt or a jersey it needs to have something more to it.”





Demna Gvasalia of Vetements and Balenciaga


Demna Gvasalia of Vetements and Balenciaga.

Given that a T-shirt printed with the DHL logo was the item that originally brought Gvasalia and his design collective, Vetements, to the world’s attention, this proclamation will pique the fashion industry’s interest.

Two years ago, when he started at Balenciaga, Gvasalia’s ironic, street-smart aesthetic seemed an odd fit for a house best known for its association with Audrey Hepburn. But his impressive hits – the oversized anoraks copied on every high street; the sell-out “ugly chic” Triple S trainers – have proved the pairing’s wisdom.

This season’s big idea had a serious message: Balenciaga collaborated with the World Food Programme on a series of logo baseball caps, bumbags and T-shirts, using the same “free corporate awayday merch” aesthetic that has become a house signature.





Balenciaga collaborated with the World Food Programme on baseball caps, bumbags and T-shirts


Balenciaga collaborated with the World Food Programme on baseball caps, bumbags and T-shirts. Photograph: Estrop/Getty Images

“If I can do something that actually engages and makes some difference…” said Gvasalia, explaining that Balenciaga had donated $250,000 (£180,000) and will give 10% of the retail price of each piece sold to the UN charity. “It was a very special project,” he said. “For the first time I thought that fashion could be useful in a different way than just covering the body.”

The other graphics in the show were about “using fashion as a tool of communication” too, albeit in weirder ways. Some shirts were printed with the phone number of a newly set up “Balenciaga hotline”, on which a recorded voice asks callers banal questions such as their favourite city and their shoe size. “It’s a never-ending hotline, for people who have a lot of time,” said Gvasalia, gnomically.

With a snowy mountain set, and a neon-infused colour palette inspired by snowboarders in the 90s, the final theme was extreme weather, explored through silhouette.





Big clothes for extreme weather at Gvasalia's show


The final theme of Gvasalia’s show was extreme weather. Photograph: Estrop/Getty Images

The show opened with a black mini dress, worn with bare legs and heels, and closed with gargantuan coats created from up to nine garments fused together. “It looks like you are wearing all of your wardrobe because it’s really cold,” said Gvasalia, “but it’s actually one piece. We ended up with shapes that are extremely reminiscent of the house archive even though I used all the ‘Demna’ pieces – hoodies, parkas. This was my way of showing that this is the new Balenciaga; how I see it defined by me being there.”

Also on Sunday, British designer Clare Waight Keller presented her sophomore collection for Givenchy. Waight Keller replaced Riccardo Tisci, who was recently named creative director of Burberry.

Her debut, in September, was met with a mixed critical reaction, but this follow-up was stronger. Building on the nighttime feel of an assured couture collection, shown in January, she took 80s Berlin as her theme, and showed a series of lush fake-fur coats, shimmering sequinned midi dresses with tough pointy boots and appealing monochrome tailoring.

Waight Keller described the collection as gritty and said it had brought her a step closer to expressing her vision for Givenchy.

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