Over the last weekend (from November 19), luxury fashion house Balenciaga kicked off an exclusive five-day event to present its 50th Couture Collection designed by creative director, Demna Gvasalia.
The elaborate showcase was the first of many for the house: it marked the maiden event for the brand in Mainland China and also the first time the couture collection has been shown outside of Paris.
Nineteen looks from the first couture collection designed by Gvasalia were displayed in Tank Shanghai museum. The last time the Maison showed a couture collection was in 1967 after which its eponymous founder retired from fashion. A further eleven looks from the collection went on show in a bespoke dressing suite built along the bank of the Huangpu River.
The collection was originally unveiled during Paris Fashion Week, where it was shown in the house’s mythic address of 10 Avenue George V. Its salons were restored to its initial state before the founder left the fashion scene. And this atmosphere was brought over to the venue in Shanghai — beige drapes, pale carpet and sculptural furniture.
Due to the ongoing pandemic and the related travel restrictions, both Gvasalia and CEO of Balenciaga Cédric Charbit were unable to attend the couture presentation at the Tank Shanghai museum.
“As China isn’t able to travel to Europe, either, I felt it was our duty to bring the Balenciaga 50th Couture Collection there. I’m proud to share with China this very important moment celebrating the culture, craftmanship, and heritage of Balenciaga in an exhibition featuring my first Couture collection,” said the designer in a statement.
More than just showcasing the house’s latest couture collection in more than 50 years, the decision to hold this China special is more than meets the eye. This is a strategic move to solidify Balenciaga’s position in the luxury fashion hierarchy. Fellow competitors like Prada and Louis Vuitton had already made extraordinary efforts to physically reach Chinese consumers.
Actress Qi Wei and Lee Nathan Scott. Image: BalenciagaSupermodel Ju Xiaowen. Image: BalenciagaActress Zhang Bozhi. Image: Balenciaga
Take for example Prada, it held its Spring Summer 2022 collection in person and in two locations: Milan and Shanghai. And Louis Vuitton recently had a spin-off for its Spring Summer 2022 collection in Shanghai as well. The aim is simple, to continuously engage with its local Chinese market.
Compared to other brands, Balenciaga entered China quite recently — less than 15 years ago. To many Chinese customers, their first touchpoint with the brand resonates strongly with the artistic vision of Gvaslia. This means edgy, fashion-forward sportswear such as the Triple S sneaker. But in fact, Balenciaga is a 100-plus-year-old couture brand and the designer is determined to use his first couture collection as a means of spotlighting the craftsmanship of the brand.
Showcasing couture also fits nicely with the return of parties and red carpet events. In a post-pandemic era, the demand for more showy clothes will grow and haute couture is the answer to this growing penchant for exquisite pieces. In China specifically, its Haute Couture industry is expected to exceed US$40 billion next year according to a report by Academia Sinica.
At the heart of every couture collection is the unparalleled attention to detail and for this China special that Balenciaga had organised, a walled-off podium is installed for taking measurements, and a changing area — all of which was to mimic the experience of how haute couture is supposed to be. A breakdown of the timeline for the five-day affair included a two-day couture preview, and three days of fittings with one-on-one appointments.
“We’ve seen extremely strong interest from both men and women of all ages, and quite unexpectedly, both a classic couture clientele but also celebrities and collectors,” Charbit said in an interview with WWD. “People are interested in our heritage and craftsmanship but also in the fact that this comeback is historic, so anyone who’s interested in fashion and its history understands the importance of this presentation.”
No doubt the Middle Kingdom still remains a key market for many brands including Balenciaga despite the recent call for “common prosperity” by the country’s top leader. And the demand will continue to grow and the brand’s bet on its couture might set itself as the top fashion brand in China.
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