Real Talk: On Balenciaga and Chasing Cool

Demna Gvasalia’s appointment makes him Balenciaga’s third artistic director in four years. Nancy Won asks: is the luxury house just playing the field?

Balenciaga RS16 0781
Alexander Wang takes his final bow at Balenciaga SS16 (Photo: IMaxTree)

Five days ago New York’s reigning king of cool, Alexander Wang, took his final bow as artistic director of Balenciaga. Today, the storied house announced his successor: Paris’s reigning king of cool, Demna Gvasalia. As head designer of Vetements, Gvasalia took the underground label from unknown newbie status just four seasons ago to coveted it-brand and new favourite name-drop of industry insiders, street style stars and cool-chasers around the world.

Speaking of cool-chasers, though, am I the only one thinking that’s kind of what Kering (the luxury conglomerate that owns Balenciaga) is looking like right now?

Sure, playing designer musical chairs is par for the course in fashion. (All the switching around this past year alone is enough to make an editor’s head spin.) But traditionally these roles are a long-term kind of deal: Raf Simons at Dior, Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent or most recently Peter Copping at Oscar de la Renta. Not to mention the Kaiser. In fashion, these appointments are the equivalent of a marriage announcement. You commit, you learn, you grow, you get better together. Sometimes things end amicably (Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton). Sometimes it’s messy (John Galliano and Dior). Balenciaga it seems, wants to play the field. All the kids are wearing Alexander Wang? He’s our man! Vetements is in? Demna for the win!

A look from Vetments' SS16 show (Photo:IMaxTree)
A look from Vetements’ SS16 show (Photo: IMaxTree)

Not to take anything away from Gvasalia—the guy has some serious design chops (a master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp, past stints at Maison Margiela and Louis Vuitton) and I’ve no doubt the clothes will be killer—but there’s something about this announcement that feels somehow…impermanent? Few things are forever in fashion, but Vetements and Gvasalia are so now, so seriously of-the-moment, that when the news hit my inbox this morning, it felt less marriage announcement, more “hot new collab.” Especially considering how brief Wang’s turn was—barely three years compared to his predecessor Nicholas Ghesquiere’s 15. Gvasalia’s appointment makes him Balenciaga’s third artistic director in four years, which could mean, a) nothing at all, or b) the beginning of a new era of millennial musical chairs. One in which “artistic director” is more “artist in residence,” and “spring fling” takes on a whole new meaning.

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