The Future of Balenciaga Is on the Line

Get ready. Your feeds are about to be crammed full of color, sparkle, celebrities and opinion. Fashion month is upon us: hundreds of shows in four cities vying not just for your wardrobes, but for your eyeballs and even sense of outrage.

Who will be bidding for Oscar red carpet glory? Can anyone top the Schiaparelli lion head? Will there be any scandals and controversies? Here’s what you need to know

It’s make or break time for Balenciaga.

A look from the Demna’s spring 2023 Balenciaga “mud” show.Credit…Balenciaga

That might seem like hyperbole, but it is not. This is the single most fraught show of the season. Maybe of any season. As you may recall, Balenciaga — regularly called the hottest brand of the last five years in any fashion ranking thanks to the ability of Demna, its designer, to hold a finger up to the cultural winds and capture them in clothes and context — had a spectacular fall from grace last fall.

It started in October when Ye, or the artist formerly known as Kanye West, opened the Balenciaga “mud” show, only to follow up with his own Yeezy show to which he wore a White Lives Matter T-shirt, which presaged a host of antisemitic and anti-Black comments. Slow to distance themselves from the rapper, Balenciaga then went live with a holiday ad campaign featuring teddy bear handbags in B.D.S.M. gear held by children, followed by another campaign that contained papers related to a U.S. Supreme Court child pornography case tucked in a pile.

A public outcry ensued, with Balenciaga accused of promoting pedophilia, boycotted and otherwise canceled. Apologies, when they finally came (after an attempt to blame a set design team), were halfhearted. Assumptions were that heads would have to roll, but both Demna and Cédric Charbit, the chief executive, remained in place. Holiday sales, especially in the United States market, have, by all accounts, been dismal. And the Lyst shopping platform reported that in the last quarter of 2022, Balenciaga fell out of its ranking of the top 10 most searched brands for the first time since the index was created in 2018.

Save for the apologies, Balenciaga has remained almost entirely silent throughout, meaning that the show will be its first major public statement since the debacle.

Will Demna use the platform to address the problems? Will he offer some sort of dramatic mea culpa? Can Balenciaga rewrite the narrative and make its products desirable again? Will anyone even go to the show, given the general antipathy for the brand and fears of a backlash against being seen to support it? Will there be protests?

It’s all riding on this show, scheduled ton March 5 in Paris.

Burberry is trying to bring back Cool Britannia.

A look from the Burberry spring 2020 collection.Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Burberry, the biggest luxury brand in Britain and a sort of doppelgänger for the country, lost its way in recent years under the designer Riccardo Tisci and the chief executive Marco Gobbetti, offering up an outsider-goth version of Britishness that included deer ear prosthetics, backless trench coats and a video inspired by a “love affair between a mermaid and a shark” that included white-clad acolytes swaying in a forest.

But after almost a complete shift at the top, two Brits — Daniel Lee, the new designer, and Jonathan Akeroyd, the chief executive — are now in charge, tasked with re-centering the heritage at the heart of the house. Change has already begun, with a new logo that is a throwback to the original Burberry Prorsum horse and rider minted in 1901, plus a teaser ad campaign starring Vanessa Redgrave, Liberty Ross, Skepta and Lennon Gallagher. Yes, the son of Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit, the original Cool Britannia couple of 1997. As clues to where this is going, it’s pretty clear.

Obscuring the picture, however, is Mr. Lee himself, who left his previous position as the wunderkind creative director who revamped Bottega Veneta in late 2021 under a cloud of rumors about bad behavior and staff turnover. Mr. Lee has not addressed the issues, nor made any statement about what he has been doing since (other than traveling), a glaring omission in a time of increasing corporate consciousness-raising and value-signaling.

All of which means that while the show is about rehabbing Burberry, it’s also about Mr. Lee rehabbing his reputation. Not to mention rehabbing the image of Britain, which, with Brexit, Boris and inflation, could use a win.

Generational change is happening in New York.

The new guard, clockwise from top left: Heron Preston, Raul Lopez, Taofeek Abijako and Willy Chavarria.Credit…Clockwise from top left, Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images; Calla Kessler for The New York Times; Nathan Bajar for The New York Times; Selwyn Tungol

There has been a lot of moaning about New York Fashion Week losing its superstars, after Calvin Klein closed its runway line and Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren decided to make their own schedules. But in their absence a rare thing is happening: generational change.

The new guard may not be household names, but they are rethinking what American sportswear means and who gets to define it, in a way that has the potential to reshape fashion for the next decade or more, and to make New York another rare thing: a genuinely diverse design hub.

Thom Browne is taking over from Tom Ford as head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The two most thrilling showmen in the city, Mr. Browne and Willy Chavarria, lead with theater and emotion, not commerce and calculation. Also look for Heron Preston, bringing his form of “instant language,” upcycling and archetypes, back from Paris; Raul Lopez of Luar, who imbues his edgy, gender-agnostic lux with his own back story; Everard Best of Who Decides War, the designer turning jeans into couture; and Taofeek Abijako of Head of State, whose post-colonial storytelling pairs every product he makes with a community-improvement project, both at home (upstate New York) and in Nigeria (where his parents are from) and who dressed Danai Gurira and Evan Mock for last year’s Met Gala.

For these designers, fashion isn’t just business or art; it’s nakedly personal. Sometimes literally naked. They are each building their own communities, reflecting the changing demographics of an evolving world. If they can make it past the start-up phase, they will be the new fashion establishment of the city.

And Harry Styles’s favorite designer is debuting in Paris.

Harris Reed at a fashion event in London in December. Credit…John Phillips/Getty Images

Harris Reed, 26, the half-American, half-British, much feted but largely unproven name who made the ball gown Harry Styles wore in Vogue in 2020, and the polka-dot Suessical suit Shania Twain wore to the Grammys on Feb. 5, is the new designer at Nina Ricci, a brand that has been struggling to define itself beyond its perfume pretty much since it tried to move beyond perfume. Mr. Reed’s dramatic gender-bending one-offs garner a lot of attention and celebrity kudos when he shows under his own name in London, but they do not exactly scream “commercially viable!” so there’s a lot riding on his debut.

It’s a similar story with Ludovic de Saint Sernin, 27, the new designer at Ann Demeulemeester, whose genderless shredded peekaboo aesthetic has found fans in Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa and Rihanna. The Belgian brand, once the epitome of slouchy, existential hipness, has lost some of its mojo in recent years, existing on the good will of its former self. Mr. Saint Sernin’s job is to change that trajectory.

The question, in both cases, will be how the designers translate their drama into wearability — or whether, in the Instagram-TikTok age, statement-making is actually the ultimate goal.

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