Something wasn’t quite right about Demna Gvasalia’s spring 2022 collection for Balenciaga, though it took you a moment to figure out what. The signs were everywhere. “We see our world through a filter-perfect, polished, conformed, photoshopped, we no longer decipher,” read an opening tile before the digitally-streamed runway show—called ‘Clones’—began. “Technology creates alternative realities and identities, a world of digital clones.”
Then came the unsettling dystopian strum of synths, a single piano note, and an AI bot dispassionately singing the lyrics of Edith Piaf’s great romantic ballad La Vie En Rose. The models—or was that the same model over and over?—stomped down the runway with a kind of clunky robotic swagger. The audience was a sea of young, thin, beautiful people, watching the show through the screens of their iPhones.
It was a familiar scene, but it wasn’t. Why? Because none of it actually happened. Spring summer ’22 represented a global first for the Paris Fashion Week schedule (though Demna has taken to showing off-schedule for the last year): the first deep fake runway. Everything you saw was a CGI creation, the work of visual artist and filmmaker Quentin Deronzier. Deronzier 3D-modelled the collection onto AI models, including stitching the face of Eliza Douglas—a long-time Gvasalis muse who has opened every one of his runway shows to date—onto every ‘model’s’ body.
The clothes themselves were, of course, real. Gvasalia’s signature voluminous floral dresses, oversized suiting, quilted cacoon coats, and boxy ‘80s-style blazers were on display, with subtle updates for the new season. Dresses were printed with primitive, child-like drawings, a tracksuit reworked into a floor-skimming tunic, and Simpsons paraphernalia was tucked into Noughties-style cargo trousers. The show closed with an homage to the iconic drag queen Divine, a voluminous crushed velvet red gown harkening back to her look in the 1972 John Waters cult film Pink Flamingos (this follows on from Loewe’s dedicated Divine capsule collection last year, proving the late star’s enduring cultural legacy).
Accessories-wise, we were treated to another helping of the much-hyped Gucci x Balenciaga crossover, which first debuted last month. Gucci’s signature logo belts were remade with interlocking Bs, and classic bags, like the heritage ‘Jackie’ bag, were reworked in a Balenciaga-laden Guccissima print.
The entire presentation evoked a sensation often described as the uncanny valley, the unsettling feeling that comes with watching something that looks almost, but not quite human. For all its many wonders—we certainly couldn’t have gotten through the last year without it—technology does tend to dim the magic from authentic, human experiences. It’s a conundrum that has obviously been on Demna Gvasalia’s mind, though until we can return to real-life, face-to-face interactions, it seems like one we are destined to keep butting heads against. Perhaps the greatest take away is this: if his clothes look that good digitally rendered onto a fake body, they must look breath-taking in real life.