By now, luxury brands have used nearly all corners of L.A. for their runways, from Chanel at Paramount Studios to Burberry at the Griffith Observatory, Saint Laurent on the beach in Malibu to Gucci on Hollywood Boulevard.
But there was one truly iconic spot still up for grabs.
“It’s like our Eiffel Tower,” an L.A. native said of seeing the 100-year-old Hollywood sign used as the backdrop for the fall 2024 Balenciaga show Saturday afternoon in L.A..
Demna’s latest extravaganza was held on Windsor Street, which has perhaps the most direct view of the landmark in the whole city. It was quite a culture shock to see the old monied neighborhood of Windsor Square, home to Gettys, Chandlers and the L.A. mayor’s residence, stormed by the all-black-clad, Spandex bodysuit-boot wearing, grill-sporting, avant-garde fashion set.
Also out in full force–new and old Hollywood including Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Francois-Henri Pinault, Salma Hayek, and newly minted brand ambassador Nicole Kidman attending her first Balenciaga show “in the street,” as she deadpanned, posing in a knockout off-the-shoulder tweed couture look that made her the day’s best dressed.
“This is my purse for today, this is what Demna wanted me to carry, a little Erewhon Balenciaga bag with flowers, so I’m going to give him the flowers when it’s done,” Kardashian said, walking in with a brown paper bag signaling the collaboration between the haute health food store and Balenciaga on a black smoothie in stores now.
Tracee Ellis Ross was rocking a Balenciaga blazer with double-wide shoulders. “I think it’s a little past Joan Collins,” she said of out shoulder-padding the “Dynasty” diva.
“I’m a L.A. native but I still get enamored of the Hollywood sign,” said Storm Reid, attending her first Balenciaga show.
Residents of the historic homes were asked to sign NDAs about the project, and some were compensated for having their neighborhood shut down.
“I had to watch, this is the fun part,” said jewelry designer Jeet Sohal, whose driveway was used for the production, adding that she was happy someone was having a fashion show on her side of town for a change.
After an hour plus of arrivals and photo ops, everyone took their seats in folding chairs on either side of the street under the swaying palms. The light was so perfect it felt more like a backlot at nearby Paramount Studios.
On the runway was a send up of L.A. wellness culture, with taut and toned models in leggings, shorts, sweats and 3XL sneakers, toting Erewhon bags, cell phones, water bottles and coffee cups as if they’d just been paparazzi snapped coming out of Barry’s Bootcamp.
Juicy Couture-style velour sets (Juicy co-founder Gela Nash Taylor was in the seats with hubbie John Taylor), exposed thongs, overstuffed Ugg-style boots, “Melrose Place” era tweed suits, and other relics of the early Aughts were all here, set to a soundtrack of fake ads selling everything from meditation classes to doggie yoga.
One might have taken it as an insult, the same old trope about L.A. being shallow, had it not come from a genuine place.
“Often people perceive my work as ironic, actually it’s the opposite, I was showing my love to the influence I got from the city,” Demna said backstage after the show. “It’s my favorite city in the world, all my culture evolution when I was a teenager growing up in this post-Soviet vacuum came from here through movies, music, everything I started to absorb that became my fashion references.”
Demna said he wasn’t sure about showing in L.A. until he started his mood board for the fall collection. “I wanted to go back to these cinematic shows, because I don’t think there is any point to just showing nice clothes. I like to have this narration to it. We had all these pictures of people in L.A. coming out of restaurants, at the gas station…and I realize the biggest influence I had with my fashion is here, which has maybe often been misinterpreted. I couldn’t show this in New York and Paris in the same way, it was about what comes from here, how it impacts me, fashion in general and global culture.” (And surely, the Kardashians, some of his closest muses, are part of that influence.)
The designer enlisted his usual diverse cast of characters on the runway with some surprises, Brigitte Nielsen struggling to walk in thigh-high patent leather boots, and Cardi B in a blue furry clutch coat.
“I wanted to show the multitude of what L.A. represents to me, but it also makes sense in what I do at Balenciaga, from jogger athletic shorts to a couture dress, and the whole multitude in between–the streetwear which is my platform, the grunge which came from north but condensed here and became a genre, to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and fabulous ladies shopping,” Demna explained.
Indeed, it’s the grunge looks that could become most influential, including a navy T-shirt/tank hybrid worn over a black turtleneck, fraying gray jeans and heeled sandals; T-shirts fashioned into aprons layered over wide pants, and reconstructed jeans with two tones of denim.
Naturally, it being L.A., Demna devoted considerable bandwidth to the red carpet.
“I realize men’s looks on the red carpet from every era are always black suits, nothing really changes except the shirt, so I decided to take off the shirts and just use one suit pattern for all the looks and change fabric on each of them. That was a nod to Cristobal Balenciaga because he used fabric to define the shape, and let it make the garment,” he said of using everything from outerwear nylon to fluid athletic jersey on his hulking suit silhouettes.
For women, he pulled photos of monumental Oscars dresses from years past as inspiration, creating some striking specimens, from a infanta gown with Balenciaga bow in the front, to a face-obscuring gray satin “cathedral dress,” all of which means Ms. Kidman should have plenty to choose from this awards season.