Balenciaga Haute Couture 2021: part 3 of 4
I know, it’s already the day after said ‘tomorrow’, but hey - I couldn’t have guessed that Balenciaga’s follow-up to the couture show, the Spring 2022 collection presented the night before yesterday, would include a twofold event and thus necessitate an adequate response.
Excuses aside, Saturday night’s show can in fact influence our reading of the couture collection. That is because on top of executing a couture collection worthy of resuscitation after more than a 50-years dormancy, there was the other side of the coin waiting to flip: can you make this kind of a manifesto shareable? Not inclusive, ugh. Something that many, many people can take part of, be allowed to dream of, because in one way or another they understand it.
There was no doubt that on Saturday, what interested Gvasalia most of all was indeed this sense of shareability. Was he, in a way, trying to compensate for the rarefied air he created in the couture show? First, instead of a classic runway show, the fashion house staged a red carpet ceremony, complete with howling paparazzi et al. This was then followed by a screening of a special Simpsons episode, 100% dedicated to Homer and Marge’s Balenciaga crusade. These two parallel manoeuvres leave little doubt apropos their intention: however cute and tongue in cheek, this is pop culture engagement at its flattest, bordering on populism. Which, it seems, is a key word when it comes to shareability. This connection was already thoroughly and brilliantly untangled in Hito Steyrel’s work from 2019 with collaborators Miloš Trakilović and Giorgi Gago Gagoshidze, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: BELANCIEGE”. Here is how Kolja Reichert describes it on 032c, concentrating on Cambridge Analitica’s researcher Christopher Wylie - his book, and his appearance on Steyrel’s work:
“By adding quantified cultural signals,” Wylie recalls of Cambridge Analytica’s business model, “we were verging on a new area akin to ‘cultural finance.’ We thought that if we got it right, we could run simulations of different futures of whole societies.” His assumption that political changes follow in the steps of cultural ones was in tune with [Steve] Bannon’s goals for Breitbart. “Political extremism, for example, is a cultural activity with parallels in fashion,” writes Wiley. “They’re both based on how cultural information proliferates through the nodes of a network.”
(…) Wylie appears in MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: BELANCIEGE in excerpts of his lecture “Fashion Models and Cyber Warfare” (…) Trump, he says, functions like that most polarizing garment of the 2000s: the Croc. The once notoriously hideous shoe only “made it” once Balenciaga released an even uglier version in 2017. (…) “This dynamic of shock and subsequent normalization was what Trump’s campaign banked upon,” explains Steyerl. “With data hijacked from Facebook users, Trump was shown repeatedly and in numerous variations in tailor-made and targeted ads. When Trump started trending, his PR machinery kept things moving forward.” (…) Wiley (…) furthermore puts the ethical responsibility on the audience: “We depend on you guys frankly, not only to make our culture, but also to protect our culture. We are in a cultural war, you guys have created the battlefield. And it’s up to you whether Trump or Brexit or the Alt Right become the Crocs (quick, fast, and regrettable) or the Chanel (ensuing and iconic) of our political age.”
So yes, funnily enough, Saturday’s developments allow us a more lucid look into what happened in July’s couture act. We are being tempted to call the ready-to-wear event — which presented the same known Balenciaga silhouettes in a flashy context — “The Croc”, while naming the couture collection — the spearheading show that took place in complete silence, without even a hint of a soundtrack — “The Chanel”.
Gvasalia himself, it seems, is imprisoned by this dichotomy: “[Clothes] make me happy - and I realized that’s the purpose of fashion. It’s not about the frenzy and buzz - and the white noise, I call it, of the digital mayhem we’re living through” — this, from July, comes from the same man who just two days ago directed the noisiest red carpet frenzy imaginable, yes? — “The essence of it is my passion and the tools. I realized that couture is the best way to manifest it.” It’s true, passion was indeed manifested in that couture show. What, then, had been manifested on Saturday night, on the ‘Croc’ side of the equation? Is the white noise the fuel which allows the silence to exist?
The next segment, part 4 of 4 - on Wednesday.