This morning Alexander Wang presented his debut collection for Balenciaga in the Parisian Maison’s grand salon on Avenue George V. It’s the very same building in which the label’s namesake, Cristóbal Balenciaga, once held his couture presentations, and it wasn’t the only tradition that was honored today.
Only a small selection of media was invited, and, although this presented a challenge for the press attaché—“Only 80 seats, can you imagine?” said one—it did mean that the focus for Wang’s debut was purely on the clothes. (A humble start given the star power and pull the native New Yorker has displayed for his own eponymous line).
“For this particular collection I really wanted to start with the product and have the product speak for itself,” Wang told The Daily Beast backstage. “I took this idea of a wardrobe, aligned it with what I thought were the codes and the DNA of the house, and pushed that into these modern staples: the peacoat, the shirt, the pencil skirt, the sweater, the pullover.”
Presenting 34 looks in total, Wang deconstructed some of the signatures of the house, including Balenciaga’s own fascination with geometric shapes (see the triangle necklines) and the iconic petal-shaped hems, which were flipped so that the styles sat higher at the front of the body. There was also a clear emphasis on backless styles (another obsession of Balenciaga’s) with a series of knockout black dresses and tops with fabric that was folded open at the back.
“The first thing I did was spend time in the archives,” said Wang, who seemed both exuberant and a little overwhelmed when we spoke with him. “I haven’t gone through everything yet, because it’s so expansive, but this was a starting point. Cristóbal’s philosophy was always dynamic movement—all the skirts, the jackets swung forward. Then, I thought about contrasting that with something quite static and monolithic, like marble statues.”
Using marble as a reference point, Wang worked with a monochromatic color palette, and where he pushed the boundaries the most was with the fabrics—focusing on highlighting patterns through texture. Although it was difficult to see the details during the show, what looked like coated leather was actually wool that was hand-painted and then allowed to crack. Elsewhere, he employed an embossed pattern for other knitwear styles, and also used intricately embroidered leather and shaved mink.
The 29-year-old, whose appointment was met with a mixed response when it was announced last November, has some big boots to fill, but the collection he presented today was a promising start. “I woke up this morning and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh—I am showing Balenciaga’ ... it hadn’t really hit me yet,” Wang said with a nervous laugh. “It’s all sinking in [though], and I am super excited.”