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Balenciaga to return to haute couture after a 50-year hiatus

Demna Gvasalia will reopen the atelier that has been shut since 1968

In a week of fashion news bombshells, (Jean-Paul Gaultier bowing out and Paul Smith's 50-year celebrations) Balenciaga has delivered the biggest shock of all by announcing it will be returning to the rarefied world of haute couture.

In July 2020, the label will stage its first couture show since its founder, Cristobal Balenciaga, shut its atelier in 1968.

Now headed by Demna Gvasalia, a designer as famous for his industry disruption as for his actual work, the time has come for one of the great couture houses of old to rejoin the arena it helped establish.

Under Gvasalia, who was appointed creative director in 2015, Balenciaga has grown from a fusty, out-dated label to a cutting-edge industry leader, doubling in size in just three years, with a turnover of $1 billion (Dh3.67bn).

It was Gvasalia who spurred the obsession with oversized, dad-inspired clothes, and the seemingly unending appetite for clumpy (some say hideous) trainers that, while drawing criticism for straying too far from the founder's ideal, have proved an enormous hit with a devoted crowd.

The news isn't entirely unexpected, however. In 2017 Gvasalia marked the label's centenary by delving back through the archives, and resurrecting nine couture looks for the anniversary show. By now returning officially to the couture calendar, Balenciaga will be coming full circle.

Opened as a couture house in San Sebastian, Spain, in 1919, Cristobal Balenciaga went on to become a master of cut, volume and experimentation, and so avante garde that Christian Dior called him “the master of us all”.

Hubert de Givenchy was a avid collector, determined that the pieces be saved for posterity, while Gabrielle Chanel declared Balenciaga to be “the only couturier in the truest sense of the word”. His death in 1972 prompted the then leading fashion title Women’s Wear Daily to run a headline that simply read: “The king is dead.”

Such a legacy carries huge weight, and for Gvasalia (and parent company Kering) to announce a return to couture, clearly a plan and strategy is already in place to ensure its success.

Staggeringly expensive to produce, couture is bought by barely 200 people worldwide, yet stands as the absolute pinnacle of technical know-how and creativity. While Gvasalia's style may be very different to his predecessor, if anyone can make a success of it, it will be him.

With his willingness to break rules, to challenge norms and to create an audience who hoover up everything he touches, it will be fascinating to see what Balenciaga couture will look like under his guidance.

Updated: January 21, 2020 12:21 PM

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