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The submerged front-row in Balenciaga's latest show

The catwalk was flooded, as well as the first two rows of seats

The submerged front-row in Balenciaga's latest show The catwalk was flooded, as well as the first two rows of seats

Fashion is a system that possesses its own symbols and myths. One of the longest-lived, and most important, is that of the front row: by tradition those who are seated in the front row are more relevant than those who are made to sit in the second. But this year Balenciaga  deconstructed this myth. The set of the show created by Nicke Bildstein-Zaar featured a fully flooded catwalk, with the water level covering the first two rows of seats – a powerful political message about sustainability and global warming whose apocalyptic tones were reinforced by the LED screen suspended on the catwalk that reproduced images of flames and menacing clouds. But as well as a statement about the phenomenon of climate change, making the first rows of the parade unusable, with guests closer to the catwalk at risk of being splashed with water at every step made by the models, is a criticism to the myth of the first row and its traditional status.

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/ An incredible show by @demnagvasalia for @balenciaga FW2020 collection where he explored proposals for beauty towards the end of the world as he fused traditional dress codes like sportswear, erotica, goth & religion into one channel. The stage was flooded with water and models walked atop a platform and the ceiling was programmed with animated graphics to replicate atmospheric changes. - Uno spettacolo incredibile di @demnagvasalia per la collezione FW2020 di @balenciaga. Il designer ha esplorato le proposte di bellezza per la fine del mondo e ha fuso codici di abbigliamento tradizionali come sportswear, erotica, goth & religion in un unico canale. Il palco è stato inondato d'acqua, i modelli camminavano su una piattaforma e il soffitto è stato programmato con grafiche animate per replicare i cambiamenti atmosferici. #nssmag

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The statement towards the fashion system is very strong: the most important guests were the closest to the the water, as if to emphasize that who is most important within the fashion system is so much more responsible for the damage that the fashion industry does to the planet. This show is the end point of previous reflections on sustainability and modern society carried out by Balenciaga and started ideally with the sofa stuffed with factory scraps brought by Harry Nuriev to Art Basel in Miami and continue first with the brand's SS20 show set in a room reminiscent of the European Parliament and finally with the recent campaign-news in which the question "Where is the water going?" appeared. Yesterday's show responded by reconnecting to the theme of water and putting fashion insiders no longer in front of but within the problem making them consider how, in the face of the threat of an environmental disaster, the concepts of glamour and social status would be the first to "sink."

Balenciaga may have been the most outspoken brand in addressing this issue, but it wasn't the only one. In Kenzo's fashion show last Wednesday, in fact, the theme of front row and sustainability were touched on from a different point of view. The set design of the show was a modular structure that will be reused in the subsequent fashion shows of the brand precisely to limit their environmental impact, emphasizing the importance of the problem of sustainability and trying to develop a possible solution. This same structure also eliminated second and third rows: all guests were seated at the same distance from the catwalk, without some differences. Fendi and Gucci, respectively in the SS20 and Cruise 2020 shows, had done something similar, although in that case the lack of second or third rows was due more to an adaptation to the particular setting of the shows than to a precise political statement, while in the Marni's last two menswear shows the audience had been left standing.

The fundamental difference between the two parades with their respective meanings lies in the fact that, if from Kenzo the front row was for everyone, from Balenciaga the front row had been metaphorically destroyed and rendered useless in a scenario of natural disaster. So the message communicated through the Bildsten-Zaar design set was not about a leveling of the social pyramid, with all the guests on the same floor, but a direct and explicit threat to those at the top of that same pyramid. Gvasalia himself, however, softened the tones after the show by saying:

The apolocalypse? No, it was a celebration of fashion”.

It should also be said that the show was not without a certain irony, conveyed by the presence of diving suits and the calculated carelessness with which luxury bags, shoes and coats were mercilessly wet while the models who wore them walked in the water up to their ankles. 

Together with Gucci's show and the presentation of the Moncler Genius project held in Milan, the Balenciaga show was also one of those in which the set design overtakes the collection, almost surpassing it in importance, and bringing the concept of fashion show closer to the performance art than at the commercial presentation of a luxury clothing line.