PARIS -- New York-based designer Alexander Wang’s debut at the venerable French fashion house of Balenciaga on Thursday morning was the most hotly anticipated event of Paris Fashion Week. And even as naysayers questioned Wang’s chops (just 29 years old, Wang launched his own namesake collection only in 2007), the designer who made his rock-star reputation on a slouchy, club kid aesthetic more than proved himself worthy of a Paris runway. His collection brought Cristobal Balenciaga’s regal, rounded, 1950s-era couture shapes up to date for a generation that’s always on the move.
The look: French chic meets the street.
These were not mere art pieces, they were elevated, everyday wardrobe staples -- a black, cocoon coat with 3/4 sleeves and silver hardware; a crisp white shirt with cape-like detail at the shoulders; a pair of black pants with a draped, pleated front fastened with a silver metal bow. Little black dresses and stately gowns with sexy details and open backs.
Wang was trying to crack the edifice of the storied French fashion house in his own way. “I was interested in the contrast between things that are monolithic, like marble statues, and things that are imperfect,” he said backstage. That translated into an amazing-looking white turtleneck and straight skirt with curved hem that at first glance resembled cracked white leather, but were actually made of white mohair that was brushed, boiled, cooled and cracked, he said.
Wang also played with marble prints and marble-like motifs on chemise dresses and fur jackets. Lacey-looking black velvet pants were a haute and sexy alternative to jeans, made by cementing velvet to foam, then laser cutting and re-embroidering it, he said.
Accessories were also covetable, namely black pumps with thin V-straps (not T-straps) across the tops of the feet creating sexy toe cleavage, and boxy white handbags with half-moon shaped silver metal handles that brought to mind the blade of an ice skate.
The inspiration: “Dynamic movement, and pushing the archives forward to create a full wardrobe,” Wang said backstage. “Cristobal’s shapes translated into relatable pieces -- shirting, knitwear, coats and pants.”
The scene: Low key and intimate, the show was held at 10 Avenue George V, where Balenciaga presented his original couture shows starting in 1938. But there was no celebrity scrum or gilded decor; the message was all business.
The verdict: An auspicious start. Wang stayed true to the heritage of the house, and even to his predecessor Nicolas Ghesquiere’s contribution of using high-tech, cutting-edge materials. Wang also succeeded at creating clothes that not only beg to be looked at and revered, but also to be worn. And that should get the cash registers humming -- which, after all, is what he was hired to do.