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Balenciaga SS17
Balenciaga SS17Photography Susie Lau

How Balenciaga brought fetishism to fashion week

Centring the collection around Spandex, Demna Gvasalia’s SS17 outing saw a collision of haute couture, fetish and retro ‘bad taste’

There was an audible crackling noise that could be heard just before the Balenciaga show started. Perhaps it was the collective polyester-polyurethane fibres running through the legs of Spandex causing static friction. For Spandex, was what Demna Gvasalia fixated on this season.

Backstage, wearing a red t-shirt that read “Spandex”, the designer talked about the fetishistic aspect of haute couture, where perfect fit is everything. “It’s about the parallel between couture and fetish, and how obsessive it can be.” Google “Spandex” and you’ll find a sub-genre of sexual fetishism based around this clingy fabric that shows off all contours of the body, just as the toe-to-hip fitted boots-leggings did at this show in the brightest so-wrong-but-right Crayola shades of colour.

“It’s about the parallel between couture and fetish, and how obsessive it can be” – Demna Gvasalia

What made the obsession over this unlikely fabric particularly interesting was that Gvasalia had picked up on the fact that Spandex was invented in 1958, round about the same time Cristóbal Balenciaga had developed silk gazar that became one of his favoured couture fabrics. One material creates aerated volume and stiffened shapes that hold themselves up, while the other stretches up to five times its original proportions but bounces back to stick to the skin. Both, however, shapeshift the body and that’s how a clever parallel is forming between Gvasalia and Balenciaga, who is settling in this this new chapter in this esteemed house.

Soundtracked by a mix of instrumental past delights – Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”, this was a collection of synthetic pleasures that is evidently a more refined version of the “bad taste” that runs through his own label Vetements. The nylon and latex fashioned into hooded capes and flyaway cagoules; the leather pouf bags, the shape of which were lifted straight from souks in Marrakech; and the leather market shoppers, upsized and re-styled as duvet carry bags, printed with chintzy floral patterns. Speaking of florals, patterns which once belonged to garish 50s and 60s swimwear that you might find in a vintage bin, were lifted and re-appropriated into those Spandex leg-boots and tunics.

Then there was the shoulder pad and giant paste brooch, again more likely to be reviled as relics of the 80s returned with a covetable vengeance. “We created this new shoulder pad that actually keeps the shoulder line up but is completely empty,” said Gvasalia. “So you have this flatness in the profile which makes it very feminine, very elegant – and this kind of exaggerated boxy shape in front.” Meanwhile brooches, which were lifted from the Balenciaga archives and once were pinned to the breasts of Cristóbal’s original models, were repositioned on the hips to hold the draped Spandex tops.

“This was a collection of synthetic pleasures that is evidently a more refined version of the ‘bad taste’ that runs through his own label Vetements”

The casting, which was engineered by Henry Thomas, was also decidedly more diverse as it united modelling legends Erika Wall and Alek Wek with personal close collaborators DJ Clara 3000 and stylist Lotta Volkova, as well as new faces including Radhika Nair and Shujing Zhou. “The most important thing was the character of the girls,” said Gvasalia – and you’d need character in spades to work the sharp-edged vision that gave Balenciaga yet another long-legged step forward.