Most representations of fatherhood in fashion fall into two camps: the musclebound, black-and-white ideal of an 1980s Athena poster, or the sartorial punchline of “Dad jeans” and the “Dadbod”. Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2018 men’s fashion show on Wednesday – inspired by office workers taking their kids to the park at the weekend – offered a more nuanced interpretation.
The catwalk was a tree-lined sunlight-dappled path in the Bois de Boulogne, a public park on the outskirts of Paris. Of 68 models, seven appeared with their children or their younger siblings: there were pigtailed little girls balanced on hips and kids holding models’ hands as they toddled down the runway.
Models wore elevated versions of diverse, urban weekend clothes: anoraks in raspberry, navy and teal; sports jackets in mustard and royal blue; black leather fringed coats. A few denim jackets were tightly covered in plastic, as though they had been vacuum-packed.
Some of the looks, such as a striped office shirt tucked into straight-leg jeans and worn with loafers, were eerily close to the sort of off-duty Apprentice contestant style that had been the brand’s inspiration. Many of the garments had been tweaked, painstakingly, for verisimilitude: jeans had been frayed – just a little – where the hem rubbed at the shoe; T-shirts had been stretched at the neck and had a soft, slouched shape, as though from regular use.
But the clothes were cut in unexpected ways – funnelling out at the neck or theatrically oversized at the shoulders – that made them feel more “high fashion” than “dog walk”. They were also emblazoned with opaque slogans, including motivational phrases: “think big!” and “the power of dreams”.
Balenciaga is the most influential label in fashion at the moment, seemingly able to predict the zeitgeist like no other. If you want to know what shoes you will be wearing a year or two from now, Balenciaga can offer significant clues. Trend-watchers would have noted, then, that half of the models broke that most basic of style rules by wearing office shoes with their jeans; others wore squidgy trainers that combined highlighter yellow mesh with a deliberately grubby grey plastic.
Much of Balenciaga’s appeal lies in its ability to take items without obvious fashion pedigree and imbue them with ironic appeal. The brand recently caused a furore by selling a £1,365 bag apparently inspired by an Ikea 40p carryall , and a similar exercise in postmodernism appeared on Wednesday: an “enhanced” interpretation of a supermarket shopping bag.
There was also a repeated use of modular trousers – full-length trousers that can be zipped apart at the knee and the mid-thigh to create varying lengths of shorts, surely one of the least cool garments of all time. That Balenciaga can make the fashion pack salivate over them, with all of their associations of men of a certain age on coach-tour holidays, proves the brand’s golden touch.
In its current incarnation, under recently installed creative director Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga has sparked a host of trends that have trickled down to the high street, including the current vogue for oversized beige trench coats. That look has often been compared to the aesthetic of Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks. Not coincidentally, MacLachlan was in attendance at the show. When he congratulated Gvasalia backstage, Gvasalia told the assembled press that he had “always been on my mood board”.