The Subtle Significance of Flowers at Balenciaga's Fall 2021 Couture Show
Red carnations were given to guests, worn on lapels, and carried down the runway at Balenciaga's 50th Couture Collection last month.
Last month, Demna Gvasalia presented his first couture collection for Balenciaga. Labelled as the ‘50th Couture Collection’, it was also the maison’s first couture show since Cristóbal Balenciaga retired in 1968. Set within the ivory walls of the restored couture salon at 10 Avenue George V in Paris, subtle nods to the brand’s heritage were visible throughout the show. There were opera gloves, hourglass silhouettes, voluminous and seemingly gravity-defying designs, a bridal look inspired by Balenciaga’s single-seam wedding dress from 1967, and there were flowers.
As the models moved through the curtained doorways of the salon, an unlikely accessory emerged. A single red carnation was carried down the runway by the model for Look 1. Then seen pinned to the lapel of Look 2. And again, on Look 40. All around the room, guests, from Anna Wintour to Kanye West, had red carnations. They were casually balanced on fashion editors’ laps, neglectfully discarded on the floor, and tenderly held like a gift from a lover. Set against jet-black clothing and cream carpets, the crimson flower was impossible to ignore.
The significance of the red carnation to the Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture show lies in its status as the national flower of Spain. As the birthplace of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Spain is considered of fundamental importance to the late designer’s practice, informing the colours, fabrics, and decoration he used. Balenciaga was also particularly fond of using the brilliant red of the crimson carnation for his designs, and in some cases used the flower as a motif.
The flowers’ inclusion in the show is one of the more subtle references to Balenciaga’s legacy that has been overlooked by fashion critics. It illustrates the attention to detail characteristic of couture, which is not only found in made-to-measure clothing, but also the fashion show. While Gvasalia paid tribute to Balenciaga’s heritage with more direct references to iconic designs and the show’s setting at the restored couture salon, it is the subtle significance of the flower that I found the most intriguing. For when Bella Hadid was photographed leaving the Balenciaga show with her crimson carnation, all I could think of was: Where can I buy a bouquet of my own?
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