From the Le Cagole Boot Bag to the Retooled Classic Paris Sneakers, it’s no secret that Balenciaga has presented strange designs over the years. Therefore, when the French luxury fashion house hosted its Spring-Summer 2023 ready-to-wear show on a runway drenched in mud on Oct. 2 in Paris, the uncanny nature of the venue and the collection itself was no surprise.
No matter how strange Balenciaga’s Mud Show may seem to the general public, creative director Demna Gvasalia presents a powerful social criticism regarding war, society and identity through a combination of style and grime, creating a bold fashion statement with a shocking aesthetic.
In the outskirts of Paris, in the midst of a cavernous venue filled with dark, wet mud, Ye — better known as American rapper Kanye West — opened the show by strutting down the runway in a massive all-black security jacket and leather trousers. Models followed with snarls on their faces and bad posture, trudging through the mud while sporting Balenciaga from head to toe.
The SS23 ready-to-wear collection consisted mainly of simple, dark colors. The palettes include a spectrum of blacks and grays with pops of Barbie pink and highlighter yellow, thrown into the mix to spice things up.
Out of the 75 looks presented, there was an abundance of heavy nylon jackets, baggy low-rise jeans, flowy maxi dresses and matching sets of sweatshirts and running shorts. The strangest accessories that accompanied the looks were the worn-out, demented-looking teddy bear handbags, the bouncy corkscrew scarves that reached models’ ankles and the disturbingly realistic faux babies that were strapped to models’ chests.
Baggy jeans and flowy dresses alike were dragged through thick, foul-smelling mud as models completed their walk. Drenching garments in dirt is sacrilege to luxury designers, and many have expressed bewilderment and contempt towards Gvasalia’s creative decisions. Twitter has taken to claiming that it was “a social experiment that has gone on for way too long” — so, what exactly was the idea behind the Mud Show?
“I hate boxes and I hate labels and I hate being labeled and placed in a box. Society, the [I]nternet and the world in general loves doing that, because it feels safe this way,” Gvasalia stated in the show notes for this season. “The challenge is to get up and keep walking towards your true self after you have been beaten up and knocked down.”
The Mud Show incorporated the idea of identity not only through the collection’s non-conforming style but also through the show’s structure. In fact, the invite to Balenciaga’s SS23 show was a dusty old wallet filled with receipts, coins, old bank notes and credit cards — all items of identification.
The mud runway itself is a statement that breaks away from boxes and labels that have a deep-rooted influence on the fashion industry; it may seem inexplicable, and it may be blasphemous, but it is innovative and presents powerful social commentary that other designers may not have the courage to convey.
Balenciaga has always had a reputation for being a fashion house of uncompromising standards. Under founder Cristóbal Balenciaga’s innovative direction, the brand achieved a fluid silhouette that manipulated the waist to create a new silhouette for women — bravely diverging from the New Look popularized by Christian Dior.
Balenciaga also played with heavier fabrics, intricate embroidery and bolder materials. Because of his defiant resistance to the harsh rules of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture — the governing body of the French fashion industry — Balenciaga’s brand was never considered haute couture until much later.
Similarly, Gvasalia’s style has always been based on creating subversive fashion. He is a designer who challenges society’s assumptions on everything by effectively redefining fashion design in its entirety; if one were to describe Gvasalia’s style, it would be avant-garde and non-conformist.
“Putting luxury fashion into the box of polished, exclusive and visually expensive is limited and pretty old school,” Gvasalia continued. “I’ve decided to no longer explain my collections and verbalize my designs, but to express a state of mind. Fashion is a visual art and all we need is for it to be seen through someone’s eyes. Fashion in its best case scenario should not need a story to be sold to someone. You either like it or not.”
The mud show expressed Gvasalia’s words through its style. The muddy set and the collection’s garments painted a powerful image of a post-apocalyptic world with rising inequality, rising fascism and the threat of nuclear war — all being scarily real qualities of the world today. Fashion isn’t just mindless, mass-produced clothing; it’s a form of art that challenges boundaries and aims to make powerful statements about society.
Balenciaga’s SS23 ready-to-wear collection does exactly that. In Gvasalia’s words, “[t]he set of this show is a metaphor for digging for truth and being down to earth. Let us let everyone be anyone and make love not war.”
Grace Tu is a 2022-2023 Social Media Manager. She can be reached at email@example.com.