What Balenciaga's New Creative Director Signals About the Future of Fashion

Vetements 2016 Spring-Summer  - H 2015

Alexander Wang's out and Demna Gvasalia's in — is Paris fashion about to go street-style luxury instead of runway luxury?

When Balenciaga announced that it wouldn't be renewing its contract with Alexander Wang, the French fashion house's creative director for the past three years, tongues started wagging — even more than usual — with speculation as to why. Balenciaga sales improved under Wang, and many celebrities, including Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Felicity Jones, wore his glamorous creations on the red carpet and to awards shows.

Some said Wang decided to leave to inject more energy and time into his own eponymous label, known for its New York street style. And to possibly prove it, the designer has already jumped into the red-carpet fray under his own moniker — he dressed Taraji P. Henson for September's Emmy Awards from his own label, not typically known for evening clothes. Others professed that Balenciaga wanted to go more commercial and pump up sales by heading a little more in the direction of the mainstream.

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Or maybe Balenciaga saw that in the last few years both Valentino and Gucci hired unknown designers and had amazing success. Or perhaps Kering, which owns Balenciaga (and Gucci), wants to do something startling — something like what its former creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere is doing at Louis Vuitton. After all, fashion could use a little reinventing right now. Lace, sheer, embellishment, color block, menswear pieces, sporting pieces, wide trousers — these looks have been reworked for a few years now. And the hippie dresses and flared pants of the last six months are pure '70s retooled. What decade hasn't been reintroduced in the last 20 years? There's nothing really new under the fashion sun.

Then along comes Demna Gvasalia, who hails from Dusseldorf, Germany, by way of Georgia (the country), where he was born. He's no household name, but he is a fashion house name, having worked for both Maison Margiela, the avant-garde line out of Belgium that now boasts John Galliano as designer, and Louis Vuitton. A few years ago, he set out to form a new collective called Vetements with his underground fashion set of friends. Sounds like a fancy name, but in fact, it's French for "clothes." And fashion-forward celebs like Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and Rihanna are already sporting it.

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Gvasalia's "crew" or "squad," as a posse's being called now, include a Russian designer, a DJ and a fashion photographer. Indeed, when the fall fashion issues of T: The New York Times Style Magazine and The Wall Street Journal's WSJ Magazine came out, both publications profiled Vetements. Quietly, it's become the hippest brand in fashion. Not only does it attempt to reinvent fashion in the way Martin Margiela did in the '90s — it actually does it. Fashion editors all over the world have taken note.

"Things are still quite dusty, old and conservative," Gvasalia recently told Dazed. "I feel like there is a new energy in Paris. We want to push it — not necessarily to bring anything back, but to give it a new life." And indeed, they have. Vetements looks like nothing else you've ever seen: oversize menswear jackets with dripping overlong sleeves; high-waisted cropped skinny jeans made from old pairs of jeans that go for $1,500 (they're currently sold out); and hoodies that are reworked. Everything is asymmetrical — instead of a long sleeve with one bold bare shoulder, there's one sleeve to the elbow and one nearly to the floor, both on the same garment. Vetements' spring 2016 show in Paris — attended by one Kanye West — was held in a Chinese restaurant in a lowbrow neighborhood of Paris, and was chock-full of color, but absolutely weird colors: neon yellow high boots (for spring/summer?); giant orange puff-sleeve blouses; a violet satin mock turtleneck dress; and neon fuchsia preppy argyle vests with oversize suits. The models walked with zero makeup — and that's not the so-called natural look that takes hours to do — we mean no makeup.

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Now, we won't know how Gvasalia will reinvent Balenciaga until late February 2016 when the fall shows take place in Paris, but one thing is for sure — it won't be commercial or look like anything else. Get ready for a new trend-maker. Gvasalia and his crew might set the trends in the other direction — simple, solids, odd shapes and just plain weird. Flattering is simply not his goal. His goal is cool — a new cool.