Clothes That Make You Feel Smart

Before the Balenciaga show, Demna, the mononymic creative director of the brand, went shopping.

Specifically, he bought 800 different objects on eBay, which he haunts for the porcelain figurines, lace napkins and antique fabrics he collects. But he didn’t buy the 800 pieces for himself: He bought one for each guest at his show. The items arrived, along with the bills of sale, as part of their invitations. (I got a little purple glass vase adorned with china flowers that cost about 14 euros ($15); a retailer I know got a Radiohead CD; and one American Vogue editor got a copy of Vogue from 1995.)

The point was not the expense. The point was to consider the hours and attention required to handpick that many different objects for that many people, and how it was an investment of a different kind: Which was the greater luxury? It set the scene for a very clever show about the passing of time, value and the mystery of provenance that signaled a return to form after a few seasons in which Balenciaga and Demna seemed stuck in a creative holding pattern after an unexpected scandal sent them into a defensive crouch.

Conventional wisdom has it that when political and economic storm clouds loom, people are drawn to the comfort and safety of the familiar. To clothes that don’t demand too much.

Balenciaga, fall 2024Credit…Balenciaga

The Balenciaga show suggested the opposite should be true. That, in fact, when the world is roiled by uncertainty, it’s not a retreat to the known that is desirable, but a different idea. Forget smartphones. These were smart clothes.

Not in the they-do-it-for-you sense of technology, or the costume-y sense of librarian glasses-and-cardigans, or the academic I-read-Heidegger-in-bed, but the yeah-there’s-something-going-on-up-top, get your brain juices flowing, sense. Imagine a dress (or pants or shirt) that celebrates the beauty of using your head. Of engagement.

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