There were cries of “sacrilege” and “stupide” when Balenciaga hired Alexander Wang, known by some as an American T-shirt designer. But Mr. Wang delivered an impressive collection on Thursday that should silence his critics for a while.
Of course, Mr. Wang is not only a T-shirt designer, any more than Balenciaga is still the high temple at which the industry worships. Times change. And the only way to actually preserve a house is to periodically examine its foundations and then figure out how to make the structure more pleasing and livable for today.
That’s essentially what Mr. Wang did. Sticking to a basic but elegant palette of black and white with a smidgen of brown and dark green, he poked around in the Balenciaga archive. In the roundness of the opening coats and jackets, with a tracing of fur on the wool, in the gentle sweep of the longer coats, in the cap sleeves and the loose-back tops, there were clear allusions to Balenciaga’s 1950s modernity, as well as ’60s evening styles — like the pink gazar gown with a feathered underskirt now on display at a new haute couture exhibit at Hôtel de Ville.
But Mr. Wang brought his street smarts to those couture volumes that are indelibly Balenciaga. He minimized them so that they looked more realistic for today. He reduced the construction so that, in effect, the look was a top and a pair of trousers, or over-the-knee boots in black suede modestly decorated with silver metal knots. But the results were not boringly minimalist.
Mr. Wang was also clever with textures. Coming out of the show, the designer Joseph Altuzarra, a friend of Mr. Wang’s, praised the textures as well as the easy sense of control. “I thought it was beautiful,” he said. Jackets and tops that appeared to be stiffened wool were in fact knits. Those crackled leather pieces that came out late in the show? Not leather at all but rather painted knits. There were also plastic-looking pieces that looked injection-molded and then rolled in sprinkles. They were embroidered. Some of the loveliest dresses were elongated drapes with a hard bodice of those fake-out French knots.
“I wanted to begin by going back to the roots of the house,” Mr. Wang said, then calling out each piece — the jacket, the skirt, the white shirt — as if identifying his main building blocks. The New York designer can certainly build on these clothes for next season, adding color and maybe more decoration, but if he continues to strike that modern balance between couture and the street, he will renew a great name — and win over doubters.
Font: NY Times / Cathy Horyn