The ’90s have been “back” in fashion for years now, but all these nostalgic romps of workwear and sportswear and tie-dye are a pale imitation of the real thing. There’s an essential cultural element, a sensibility, that’s been missing. If you’ve seen Robert Altman’s Pret-a-Porter, Douglas Keeve’s Isaac Mizrahi dreamcloud Unzipped, or looked at runway images of Helmut Lang or Martin Margiela shows from that period, you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s fashion not as something at the level of football or hip-hop but as subculture, with a pantheon of personalities unknown to the rest of the world. It’s fashion as a secret little club and a refuge for high-strung freaks. It’s a world where Margiela, Lang, and Yohji Yamamoto produce far-out shapes and ideas that only the experts (a small but fervent group of consumers) can comprehend.
That’s the attitude that the Balenciaga designer Demna—who, per the show notes, is now just Demna, a la Prince and Madonna and Ye and god bless him for it—tapped into with his Fall 2022 show. A lo-fi film with an analog tape treatment directed by king of 90s subcultural grime Harmony Korine, the show opens with chaotic backstage scenes and red carpet arrivals, and includes fawning interviews from Isabelle Huppert and Cathy Horyn (“He knows how to make it modern,” says Horyn, epitomizing the classic 1990s fashion commentary that is at once meaningless and hilarious genius.) The lookbook is a series of polaroids, with names and look numbers scribbled in sharpie. If you’ve punched “Fashion TV” into YouTube, or consider yourself a Tim Blanks fanatic, you know the vibe, and Balenciaga nailed it with joyful verisimilitude.
It felt good to be “back there,” even though I wasn’t around to witness the real thing in the first place. Why? Well, it was a funny pose for Demna to strike after the past year, as he dressed the most famous people in the world (Kim Kardashian West, Justin Bieber) and embarked on projects that would bring his work to unprecedented audiences (Ye, The Simpsons; this time last year, he was making a video game, an aesthetic opposite).