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Stripping back to the fundamentals of design—as against the performative, the ‘experiential,’ and meme-generating multi-platform communication harnessed by brands—has been a thrust of this latest round of shows. Nowhere was the extreme tension between those two poles felt more sharply than at the Balenciaga show for fall 2023. It was the first that Demna, formerly known as Demna Gvasalia, one of the master-architects of meta-ironics, has held in Paris since the global scandal that was detonated by two Balenciaga online advertising campaigns posted last November.

His explanation and apology, with information about the brand’s plans for internal reform and its offer of reparation through a three-year partnership with the National Children’s Alliance was published by Vogue in early February. “I needed to have a show because I need to move on. I need to liberate myself—through my work, and what I do, and put it out there,” he’d said in a one-on-one conversation held at Balenciaga headquarters in the days before the show. “Because it has been a hell three months, and I really don’t know how I had the strength in me, mentally, to go through it.”

The choice he made—out of force of circumstance or not—was to ditch his mega-set methodology and showcase his personal bid for reputational integrity as a designer in a white canvas-draped auditorium. “It had overshadowed the collections—most people didn’t see the clothes even when it was packed with great clothes. You know, I just felt almost like [I was] betraying that by doing those kinds of set designs, because the most important thing for me in my work was being overshadowed by 15 minutes of buzzy concept. I was like, I was like, ‘Okay, I need to change that anyway,’” he said. “And this whole situation really just confirmed to me that it cannot be about that anymore. I love doing that. But I don’t love doing that more than making clothes and I felt like I needed to put this in focus. It came together with something that truly represents me as a designer. I feel like this is the message I want to give: This is who I am.”

Who he is, and where he is now: It was hard not to read the imagery of a world turned upside down in the makings of the long, somber sequence of 17 black oversized tailoring looks that opened the show. Black is a Balenciaga core non-shade; it syncs with the mood of fashion at large, and it was a reminder that Demna was, after all, the progenitor of the super-sizing that’s swept fashion in the last decade. Nothing new there. What was different: all these pieces were constructed from reverse-tailored trousers. There were coats and jackets with pant-loops and pockets in the hems. And below them hung doubled pairs of trousers, giving, from the side, the surreal illusion that the people were walking on four legs.

A printed text left on the seats explained that Demna had gone back to his earliest memory of making a choice over clothing as a child in Georgia, when he was given the money to go get a pair of pants made by a neighboring tailor.

The venue he picked today was underground, but a world away from the gritty basement venues from which he first sprang the surprise of his Vetements shows in the mid-2000s. Absent a celebrity front row, the professional industry audience numbered 700. If there was a message to read in the location—this is the man, after all, who has alerted the world to scan everything he does for subtexts—it lay in the fact that this place in the Carrousel du Louvre was purpose-built for fashion shows back in the 1990s. It was a ground zero of the Paris fashion establishment, where Balenciaga is situated, now facing the task of navigating its vast business forward through the eye of a storm.

The problem: how to close the Pandora’s box of the uncontrollable toxic furies of internet opinion? Concentrating on the creative reshaping of a collection to its fundamentals is likely only one step on a long road. Part of Demna’s decision is to refocus on Cristóbal Balenciaga’s legacy.

“Evolving it is the number one reason why I am here,” as he’d commented to Vogue earlier. Shorn of distractions, critically, the collection could be seen as a hybrid of Demna-isms—cyber-avatar menswear, his familiar flower-printed knife-pleated dresses—segueing into more of a distinct homage to the founder’s archival evening gowns. These were long, slim, covered-up dresses, minutely embellished, and with a new signature rounded-bump of a shoulderline.

Aside from the styling, there is one far more radical change on the way for Balenciaga. It was heralded only by its absence—the fact that the clothes and accessories were wiped clean of logos. The attraction of highly visible branding has been part and parcel of the cult of Balenciaga that Demna has brought to popular street culture everywhere.

“It’s a big thing,” he admitted. “But I think we’re going to enter the stage in my work where it doesn’t need to be justified by the brand on it. To be honest, it’s necessary, and I use this opportunity now to convince that this is the right thing to do. And of course, you know, doing that means not doing it only once. You have to persist to be able to change.”