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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > June 2017 > Haughty couture

Haughty couture

A master of fashion bestowed an exquisite sense of self on the women who wore his designs, says Jane Shilling

Paris fashion week this year was an unusually fretful affair, tainted by accusations of racism among casting directors and reports of models locked for hours in an unlit stairwell. But the couture story of the week was Balenciaga, which, under its creative director, Demna Gvasalia and his predecessors Nicolas Ghesquière and Alexander Wang, has become one of the most sought-after names in high fashion. Driven by the sales of “It” bags and high-end prêt-à-porter, the label’s new-found popularity is a return to the cult status that the house enjoyed in the mid-20th century under its founder, the couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Little about the house that bears his name or the 21st-century milieu of fast fashion— wraith-thin models, attention-deficit Instagramming and frantic publicity-seeking— would be familiar to Balenciaga. He was a man of such resolute reticence that it was rumoured he didn’t exist. He never took a bow at the end of his collections, rarely met his clients and gave only two interviews. Yet 45 years after his death in 1972, his influence remains profound. Not just in the acknowledgement of his legacy in the reinterpreted archive designs of recent collections, including Gvasalia’s, but in the radical ideas about form and structure, and the technical innovations of fabric and cutting that descend in a direct line from his disciples—Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Andrè Courrèges—to contemporary designers such as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, Phoebe Philo of Celine and JW Anderson.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Martha Gill and Helen Pidd examine the election chances of the three main political parties. Wheatcroft explores the Tories’ remarkable ability to rise from the ashes and assert dominance, Gill questions why the Lib Dem revival isn’t quite getting off the ground and Pidd examines Labour’s prospects after poor performances in the recent council and mayoral elections. Also in this issue: Christine Ockrent asks if France’s new President Emmanuel Macron can charm the parts of France that didn’t initially vote for him, AC Grayling assesses whether the rise and rise of drone warfare warrants a new ethical code for conflict and Francine Stock explores whether Pixar can continue to captivate modern audiences.
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