Cristóbal Balenciaga was one of the few Spanish designers to achieve the distinction of becoming an iconic Paris couturier. And, ever since Nicolas Ghesquière revived the once rather forgotten maison’s reputation in recent years, it has once again hurtled to the heights of international esteem that marked Balenciaga’s heyday on the Parisian scene defining exactly what top international fashion is.
The brand’s SS11 campaign is, indeed, a rather curious affair. Shot by top brands’ perennial favourite Steven Meisel, it features Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen and gangly Russian Yuri Pleskun, one of the current top young male models getting designers and fashion editors all excited. It’s styled by renowned fashion editor Marie-Amélie Sauvé. So, it’s not exactly a surprise that things would turn out well.
What makes it rather unusual are the contrasting elements. Largely presented as double-page spreads or two-panel layouts, there is most definitely a certain frisson between the relative classicism of Gisele’s solo modelling of the womenswear collection on one page and the DIY gothic romanticism of the forest scenes featuring Yuri. This feels like a new route for Steven Meisel, at least in terms of immediacy of the images featuring Yuri that seem to have a relationship to the position of certain underground and documentary photographers – some who have more recently crossed over into fashion- arising from Russia’s vibrant post-Glasnost underground art and subculture scenes.
There is one school of thought that says that good advertising can make effective use of challenging images to first capture attention and, secondly, maintain attention by asking questions that are difficult to answer. There is no doubt that the art direction of this particular campaign is enigmatic. Exactly what we are supposed to take from the rather clashing juxtaposition of sleek, almost restrained, colour images of classic high-end fashion with the punky androgynous black ‘n white duo photos is not easy to answer.
The blunt posturing in the black ‘n white photographs is implicitly reminiscent of the kinds of self-made fame of the 1980’s underground generation; inventing one’s own fame in Taboo or Blitz. And, as we have all seen in recent years, this archive of a former era has played its role in informing the sensibility of the current generation of hip kids who have reinvented its style of self-conscious posing in the trendy pubs of London or low-tech club nights of Paris, not to mention a certain penchant for the Gothic that simply refuses to die.
But, what exactly can we take from the implied comparison with Balenciaga’s current collection, overtly chic, stylish and reasonably classical? At first glance perhaps. But, as one examines it more closely, it’s also clear that the current collection plays out its own little homage to the days of punk and New Wave, most immediately identifiable in details such as belts or textiles. Look more closely, and one will even see that it is present in the silhouettes too.