How heritage fashion houses are drawing inspiration from history
Cristobal Balenciaga's original designs weren't doused in fluorocolours, nor did he emblazon fitted tops with his surname, let alone think about sprinkling colourful trinkets across platform Crocs. That is the indelible hand of Balenciaga's creative director Demna Gvasalia, who is moulding the French fashion house more in his own image as dual creative director of his label, Vetements. "After the past few seasons, I could feel myself getting restrained by homages," he explained backstage at the Balenciaga spring/summer '18 show.
Placing cool, young designers at the helm of established fashion brands is an exhilarating narrative - think of the new and the old! The to-the-minute and the traditional! - but an old-hat move. Alessandro Michele was not the first to re-ignite Gucci; Tom Ford had done it over 20 years earlier when, like Gvasalia, he cast the new ready-to-wear line of the Italian leather goods brand in his own taste, with sultry hip skimming velvet pants, silken shirts unbuttoned. Then there's Stella McCartney and, later, Phoebe Philo for Chloe, and the revolving doors of designers at Vionnet, Lanvin and others.
The function of the new creative director is to instigate change, to see the heritage through fresh eyes and to work in more modern values. Cristobal Balenciaga's balloon hemlines are now echoed as peplums for Gvasalia's Balenciaga, while Nicolas Ghesquiere shrunk the famous Louis Vuitton trunks into a box clutch, the Petite Malle.
Michele, in partnership with Marco Bizzarri, the CEO who hired him, has ushered in not only an aesthetic change at Gucci but also a change in values - as of spring/summer '18 the house will be fur-free. "We've been talking about it, Alessandro [Michele] and I, for a few months," said Bizzarri. "Technology is now available that means you don't need to use fur. The alternatives are luxurious. There is just no need. Gucci isso visible, so well known: we need to use that in a positive way." Think of the classic Gucci loafers launched in 1953; under Ford they were only available in black, but Michele's first collection presented them as muleslined in kangaroo fur. The 2018 versions will be pointedly sans fur