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Demna Family Drama & Other Paris Notes

Balenciaga Paris Fashion Week
Photo: Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Lauren Sherman
March 4, 2024

On Friday afternoon, I went over to the Balenciaga offices to meet with still surname-free Demna and peruse a few pieces from the new collection. We talked about Los Angeles—where he showed in December—and good taste versus bad, and how the whole tired-from-inception concept of quiet luxury makes the skin crawl. I told him about John Fetterman, and the uproar over the senator’s sweatshirts. Good taste is often in poor taste, if you know what I mean. Trying to look classy often makes you look pathetic.

I liked what I saw at the preview, but the Sunday show, which took place in a box constructed over Napoleon’s tomb—the walls, floor, and ceiling lined in screens depicting “morning to night”—was the best thing I’ve seen all week. Before it started, the ceiling’s digital blue sky made it look as if the sun was shining down on us. (It’s been raining.) The product—as Demna comfortably called it, freeing that word from shame—was refreshingly individualistic. In other words, it was the opposite of the repetition-happy collections that many other designers have been showing. (To emphasize the idea of individuality, every “invite” was a tchotchke sourced on eBay that was related to the guest’s past. Mine was a small porcelain poodle, inspired by Ralphie, the family dog. He now lives with my in-laws in Miami.)

The fear among the fashion throngs, including me, has been that Demna was stuck. Could he move Balenciaga forward? Here, there were new things to think about. These clothes were Demna, but they were also straight-up sensational. My favorites were the stiffly wrinkled dresses and tiered shirts reminiscent of a famous Cristóbal Balenciaga silhouette.

The truth is, Balenciaga—and, more broadly, its owner, Kering—needed a win. This was the first collection that felt wholly divorced from the troubles of 2022, and strangely, I think the trip to Los Angeles may have served as a catalyst. During our meeting, Demna mentioned that his parents were with him in Hollywood, so they were top of mind when I was seated across from his mother a few hours later at estranged brother Guram Gvasalia’s runway show for Vetements, the brand they once shared. (Demna was the designer, Guram was the business guy. They had a falling out.) 

Vetements was utterly bizarre. I have nothing to say about the clothes, other than, if Demna is full of ideas, Guram has none. The models were the news. Natalia Vodianova opened—her husband, LVMH scion Antoine Arnault, sat front row—while Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives fame closed, walking as if she had recently been wounded. Where is the money coming from?

Gvasalia seems to want to make this family feud into fashion history: He sent out a shirt that said “Not Mom’s Favorite.” You could laugh, and I looked across the aisle to their mother, Ella Gvasalia, to clock her reaction. She seemed unfazed, and I planned to go over to her after and ask what she thought. But as the crowd emptied out, I could see she was visibly upset and decided to let her be. Strange stuff, I hope they sort it out.

McQueen, Chloé, Loewe, Etcetera

Back to actual fashion. The McQueen show was divisive. Some of the industry’s greatest editors and critics liked it. One told me she liked the energy, that it felt young. Others unequivocally did not. My reaction? Oof, this job is tough. Backstage, new designer Seán McGirr mentioned referencing McQueen’s Spring 1995 collection, “The Birds,” but also “anti-politeness,” and the “idea of improvisation.” McGirr’s dad is a mechanic, and there were references to cars: Lamborghini yellow, dresses made out of metal, etcetera. So many looks for a first collection (52).

I’m not a fashion historian by any means, but a plain eye can see the connection between what McGirr did here, and what McQueen achieved with The Birds. What upset people, then? Well, it’s a very personal brand; it’s almost as if people have a parasocial relationship to it. You could go on about this collection being too slick, and feeling A.I.-generated. For me, though, it was missing a sensuality that is absent in a lot of fashion today, which was integral to McQueen’s success. 

That might just be what Fashion is now, but I worry that McGirr’s missive is to design clothes for young people, or people who want to be young, and that it’ll just become a brand that doesn’t have a real signature; a place to find wardrobe fill-ins. In some ways, that is already the case. 

In a charming interview with Vogue’s Nicole Phelps, McGirr mentioned that one sneaker makes up a significant amount of the McQueen business—that’s wild, and reflective of the state of things. McGirr, who only started working on this collection late last year and deserves the same space that was given to Sabato de Sarno at Gucci, was obviously chosen by the Kering brass for a reason. But I do wish there was more context shared on that decision.

The other debut everyone is talking about is Chloé, almost universally rated a delight. One knowledgeable industry friend argued that McGirr’s debut and the debut of the Richemont-owned house’s new appointee, Chemena Kamali, were on par, but that the context around the collections has made McQueen feel more loaded. Kamali made pretty, familiar-looking clothes for people who want to look pretty—some of whom were old enough to have lived through the brown belt, black peasant skirt era of boho chic from which she mined. Also, Kamali, with her frayed jeans and miles-long waves, is the customer. I like what’s happening at Richemont right now: I went to see Pieter Mulier’s latest Alaïa collection, spun entirely out of Merino wool, at the showroom last week. It looked fabulous, and I love that it’s selling. (After the appointment, I went downstairs to the store to try on a pair of trousers, and ended up buying a dress instead. Whoops.)

Meanwhile, Schiaparelli, an experimental brand still finding its commercial footing, often looks great during couture and is inspiring on the red carpet, but has failed to impress me at the ready-to-wear shows. I wonder if designer Daniel Roseberry and Schiaparelli’s owner, Tod’s C.E.O. Diego Della Valle, should take a cue from Alaïa and stay off the crowded de la mode calendar. It’s the wrong delivery mechanism for his ideas. Also, I’m allergic to ties—Highsnobiety E.I.C. Willa Bennett pulls it off, but in most cases, they feel so phony. I know that Schiaparelli’s surreal version, made of braided hair, is supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t. 

Before McQueen, of course, McGirr was employed by J.W. Anderson. Jonathan Anderson’s studios are fertile poaching ground, and he recently lost a right hand at Loewe, too: Adrian Appiolaza, now designing Moschino. There can be magic in collaboration, but Anderson is his own brain trust. Friday’s Loewe show was so great: the glass-beaded floral sweatshirt, the cargo pants, the tails, the chiffon tartan, with Detroit-born painter Albert York’s small-scale paintings hung gallery-style on walls in the shade of Pantone 577. I like it when designers comment on domesticity, especially when they comment on class, too. 

loewe paris fashion week

Courtesy of Loewe

The alchemy of Anderson’s front row shouldn’t be ignored, either. Meg Ryan sat next to Sidney Toledano, Brie Larson sat next to Delphine Arnault, who sat next to Loewe C.E.O. Pascale Lepoivre, who sat next to Yang Mi, who sat next to LVMH fashion group C.E.O. Michael Burke, who sat next to another Arnault sibling, Jean Arnault. It’s so clear that Anderson is deeply important to LVMH, and while I am sure they’ve considered him for jobs at bigger houses, I hope he stays at Loewe for as long as it makes sense creatively. Not only does he entertain us each season, but he’s managed to make it a real business along the way.