Collabs aren't a power share. They are products of a power dynamic. It is often a lopsided one. In most instances, the larger, more recognisable partner provides the cash muscle and a blank canvas; the smaller, a rising star cachet, or the keys to a previously locked demographic. It makes sense. Where one gets fresh eyes creatively, the other gets dozens more eyes on its brand in a commercial sense. This symbiosis, usually, benefits both parties, but the pie of power isn't cut down the middle. One brand will always take control.
But Gucci and Balenciaga – two of the biggest and burliest brands in the high end club – may've just flipped that notion on its head. Following countless rumours of an upcoming partnership, both confirmed as muchf today during Gucci's co-ed Aria show: a special online film to celebrate the brand's centenary, and one that creative director Alessandro Michele hailed as "a deep and ecstatic [dive] in everything we yearningly miss today... a jubilee of breath." Minus a 2019 Dries Van Noten and Christian Lacroix collab, brands of such stature rarely join forces, their red lines perhaps too permanent and their DNA too ingrained to be toyed with.
On paper, that would seem the case here. Michele's Gucci, a fey, fantastical hybrid of Wes Anderson and Nirvana, is a world away from Balenciaga; a meta convergence of the quotidian and the surreal that is as much now the brand's signature as it is that of its creative director, Vetements founder Demna Gvasalia. But both labels fall under the remit of luxury stable Kering. And, both creative directors have long understood the power of brand prestige, and the potency of hype. Build something new under an already respected brand name (and proudly paint it upon the side of legion accessories), and they will come. In droves.
There is more that unites these brands than divides them, then. The aesthetic was also pretty seamless too. At the film's open, a model shivers towards an eerie Savoy Club (a motif stamped upon jackets and helmets throughout the collection), and gazes through its peephole to an enchanted forest beyond – and from behind cyberking, noughties hacker wraparounds. The most Balenciagan piece of them all. The Gucci Gang was then to assemble, quite literally, as Lil Pump's namesake ode to the Italian marque blares out amid a well-lit Benny Boom-esque runway. Less accidental Wes Anderson, more intentional Busta Rhymes 'Touch It (Remix)' era.
And, though this was very much a Gucci show, Balenciaga could be felt (and seen) in more than just simple wraparounds. Gvasalia's preferred coat hanger shoulders framed big, billowy jackets, while the brand's strain of glam, sexy grisliness was seen in the glittering, butchered heart clutch bags and the leather harnesses. The clearest sign of a partnership though? Pieces stamped with the proud names of both Gucci and Balenciaga, the two appearing side by side in tailored jackets and suits that harked back to the bell jar silhouette pioneered and subsequently immortalised by the house's late founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga.
Gvasalia's MO has always been to redraw the everyday, and that too was present. Though instead of mimicking the streets in any European capital, the Aria show was confined to the uniforms of the country club with equestrian kit, jodhpurs, a smattering of sparkle and the big brooches of bored, moneyed housewives, alongside the usual feathers and fantasy of Michele's Gucci.
At the show's close, the symbolism and the symbiosis couldn't have been clearer. Beyond this runway, models broke out into a paradise that almost felt like parody; ivory horses galloped through fairytale glades, models in co-branded Gucci and Balenciaga threads began to float and rise to a new heaven as the anthemic electropop soundtrack blasted the words "what the future holds" from Vitalic feat. David Shaw and The Beat's 'Waiting For The Stars'. Gucci and Balenciaga have always had a tongue firmly in one cheek. But in this brave and beautiful new world, power players haven't only just learnt to work in tandem, they've learnt to power share, too – and all the power to them for doing so.
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