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So much news from Paris! Looks from the City of Light will keep us busy unto eternity, or at the very least well until November. For the moment, though, let us now train our eyes on the single most galvanizing collection by any designer, anywhere, at any time in the recent past: Balenciaga.

Several key seasonal trends were distilled in designer Nicolas Ghesquiere’s Spring/Summer show for the label, notably vivid prints, the nipped waist and sculptured shoulders and hips. But what was remarkable about Balenciaga was the way Ghesquiere’s synthesis of those trends came off looking less like a dispatch from the near advance (next season) than a dispatch from the distant future.

Exit after exit saw models swathed in hoary floral prints, many of them taken from the Balenciaga archives, some blown out into a lushness almost blinding. Everything was short, extremely so, concentrating the prints’ power and highlighting Ghesquiere’s masterful use of couture techniques of tailoring and construction. Color and pattern were classicist, yet silhouettes were space-age; indeed, the collection had a whiff of sci-fi costume design about it, with its emphasis on uniform dressing. More contrast derived from the toughness of the shapes on which those unabashedly pretty-pretty prints were blazed, a toughness underscored by Ghesquiere’s dominatrix-worthy gladiator boots. The smallish collection played so many notes at once, in each of its looks, that it effectively negated the usual terms of critique; trying to make out whether the collection was “elegant,” or “sexy,” or “young,” for example, was as much a dead-end as it must have been for critics raised on Beethoven trying to make sense of the first twelve-tone symphony.

Likewise, for Balenciaga a new language must be invented. The collection won’t nullify the styled, mix and match ethos of fashion as its been, but it argues in favor of a totally new idea of dress – one, it must be noted, that hearkens back to very old ideas of dress, ones that stretch back as far as Marie Antoinette and that are epitomized in the “total look” of ‘50s couture. In light of Spring/Summer ‘08, Balenciaga’s Fall/Winter ’07 show, so hyper-styled, so eccentrically-mixed and matched, seems ever more like a comment on fashion now, Ghesquiere taking a snapshot of a fashion moment he was about to render obsolete.

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