Balenciaga’s Latest Show Occupies Wall Street

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On Sunday, the last day of the seventh straight week of a tumbling Dow, as titans of industry and finance gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for a delayed World Economic Forum, a different gathering took place in front of the New York Stock Exchange. There was screaming. There was jostling. There […]

On Sunday, the last day of the seventh straight week of a tumbling Dow, as titans of industry and finance gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for a delayed World Economic Forum, a different gathering took place in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

There was screaming. There was jostling. There were gathered police officers and barricades.

They weren’t there for Occupy Wall Street redux, or any sort of protest about the current markets. They were there for the Balenciaga spring 2023 show, the brand’s first show being held outside of Paris, which also happened to be the first show ever held on the trading floor of the symbolic beating heart of American wealth creation and destruction.

Even the financial system, it seems, can be seduced by the promise of fashion. At least for the right price.

Whatever the debate around Demna, the mononymic creative director of Balenciaga — is he a genius, a charlatan, the most influential designer of his generation? — there’s no denying he has impeccable timing.

Or that in an era when so much seems reduced to the momentary and the micro, from daily TikTok trends to dressing subcultures, he is the rare designer of giant ambition, willing to take big swings at our shared reality: climate change, celebrity culture, war. And, now, money.

Inside the soaring, neon-lit chamber where company executives gather to ring the opening bell when their companies go public, guests that included Kanye West, Christine Quinn of “Selling Sunset,” Megan Thee Stallion and Mayor Eric Adams perched on stools that snaked through the jumble of broadcast booths. The first model stomped out in a full-body black latex unitard, with pinholes for the eyes and mouth, worn under a black double-breasted wool coat, shoulders sharp and padded, a luxurious satin pussy bow dangling down at the neck. Oh, and some wire-rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of her nose.

As statements go about the fetishization of finance, its dangers and allure, not to mention the dangers and allure of going back to the office, it doesn’t come much clearer than that.

In case you missed it, it happened time and time again. All of the models wore the bodysuit, their faces obscured, some with tufts of hair springing out the top: individuality smothered by the pursuit of lucre, all of them slaves to work and fashion, the pumping blood of the city. (Backstage, Demna wore the latex, too, though he said the bodysuit wasn’t going to be for sale.)

There were blustering, rigorously tailored power suits. And, stripped of the styling and the cultural commentary, they really are that: the kind of clothes that bestow confidence from the outside in. There were “Working Girl” blouses that were given a promotion to the executive suite with crocodile-print leather skirts, plissé polka-dot dresses and sac-backed trench coats belted around the hips. Also, enormous romper-stomper clown boots, pumps encased in what looked like little inflatable life rafts and a briefcase-like “Money” bag that opened from below.

It was like a tour through the uniform clichés of FiDi filtered through a black mirror lens, so elegance cozied up with absurdity in pretty much equal measure.

The office wear is, according to a news release from Balenciaga, actually the beginning of a new line called Garde-Robe involving “wardrobe staples” that will be a sort of perennial offering between ready-to-wear and couture.

Sprinkled amid it were stripped-down, body-conscious gowns, swishy satin separates (including a great pair of evening pajamas and satin trench complete with train) and, finally, the brand’s latest collaboration: Balenciaga/Adidas, complete with three stripes on suiting and sweats, the trefoil atop a lowercase “balenciaga” on T-shirts, and some really terrific Crayola-bright bathrobe coats.

Of course, it was still about profits — streetwear, and its related category, athletic wear, is the latest market fetish of high fashion brands — though in a somewhat less provocative and more predictable way than what had come before. The collaboration does, after all, follow a similar Adidas joint venture with Gucci, and one with Prada.

Until that point there was (thankfully) not a single logo on view, a reflection of the fact that since he arrived at the brand, Demna has created such a clear design signature that it’s recognizable without any additional initials necessary. That it doesn’t change much from season to season is part of the point. Just battering ram shoulders, hips constructed with couture nips and tucks — the ordinary transformed into something entirely other.

The ability to make you look, and then think again. Maybe we will go back to work and suit up. Maybe we shouldn’t. Either way, we should at least consider the implications, and cost, of it all. It’s priceless, really.

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