Balenciaga supports Ukraine at Paris Fashion Week

The creative director grew up in the city of Odesa

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Balenciaga delivered a show of support for Ukraine at Paris Fashion Week on Sunday as Russia continues its attack on the country.

It was the first in-person show for the house since the start of the pandemic and all eyes were on the creative director Demna (he's ditched his surname Gvasalia) to see what one of the strongest voices in fashion would deliver next.

Already one to examine the darker side of life, the designer’s favourite colour is black. His last physical show in 2020 had models walk a flooded runway, to highlight the threat of climate change, while his pandemic shows included armour-clad avatars in a custom-made video game.

For this outing, Demna again stayed close to the theme of climate change and the dire consequences it will unleash. This time, the catwalk was banked in snow, a howling wind sending flurries into the air.

The finale of the Balenciaga autumn/winter 2022 show was a dress in the colour of the Ukrainian flag. Photo: Balenciaga

That, in itself, would have been attention-grabbing enough, but the sets were finished long before Russia invaded Ukraine, so Demna had no way of knowing it would feel so relevant. Suddenly the meaning of the show shifted to something more personal.

Demna and his family were forced to flee their homeland, Abkhazia, because of the 1992-1993 conflict between Georgian government forces, Abkhaz separatist forces, the Russian government armed forces and North Caucasian militants. That's when they moved to Ukraine, setting up home in Odesa, a city now under threat.

Dresses, coats and even capes billowed in the wind as part of the Balenciaga autumn winter 2022 collection in Paris. Photo: Balenciaga

Suddenly the violent weather on the catwalk became a commentary on the plight of Ukrainians forced from their homes, as the models, wrapped mainly in coats (except for a few of the men who wore little but towels), turned a spotlight on the hardships now being endured by people in the country.

As a show of solidarity with his adoptive home, a T-shirt in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag was placed on every chair, with a statement from Demna.

In addition, the show started with the sound of Demna reading a work by the prominent Ukrainian poet Oleksandr Oles. The reading was deliberately left in Ukrainian, with no translation offered.

As for the clothes, which were almost difficult to see through the snow flurries, many were in black, with the models carrying huge drawstring bags, as if filled with precious things hurriedly gathered. Others carried what looked like several plastic bags.

The clothes were disjointed, with tops sliding off shoulders, jaunty prints, mid-length dresses and long coats that billowed in the wind. Utilitywear-inspired looks, as oversized, multi-pocketed jackets and trousers, or funnel-neck jackets, practical hoodies and jeans, felt much-needed. Some models were wrapped in great faux fur coats and heavy shoes, while others clutched meagre towels around themselves, as if having rushed from the house.

It made for uncomfortable watching, as it brought home the sheer unpredictability of warfare.

The Balenciaga autumn/winter 2022 collection included this look, in the yellow of the national flag. Photo: Balenciaga

To close the show, Demna sent out looks in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. The first was a yellow men's look of funnel-neck jacket over matching trousers, while the second was a blue dress with long train that danced in the wind. Put on display for the world to see during Paris Fashion Week, the message was clear: Demna is not going to let Russia get away with this.

Updated: March 07, 2022, 1:29 PM
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