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Balenciaga seeks to reset the narrative with haute couture revival

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In his six years at Balenciaga, the Georgian fashion designer Demna Gvasalia has put Crocs plastic sandals and Bernie Sanders campaign merchandise on the Paris catwalks. The windows of the Avenue Montaigne boutique have framed a £1,600 version of Ikea’s distinctive blue nylon Frakta tote bag and, this season, a £2,000 hi-vis jacket in lurid yellow nylon.

One of Demna Gvasalia’s haute couture creations being modelled in Paris
One of Demna Gvasalia’s haute couture creations being modelled in Paris. Photograph: Balenciaga

This week, in his strangest move to date, Gvasalia revived the haute couture branch of Balenciaga, which closed in 1968. Haute couture, where taffeta ballgowns are created to fit the tastes and measurements of the monied elite, seems an unlikely area of interest for the designer, whose first Balenciaga show half a decade ago kickstarted a global renaissance for the puffer jacket that is still going strong.

This was always going to be a different kind of couture show. Ella Emhoff, stepdaughter of the US vice-president, Kamala Harris, was one of the models, wearing a padded silk opera jacket over a tuxedo. Kanye West, in the front row, wore a balaclava throughout. There were more buzz cuts than updos.

The show opened with a series of trouser suits, some worn by men, some by women. A filmy, unstructured vest-dress stood in for a ballgown, a fluffy pastel dressing gown for a coat. The dystopian note that rings through every Balenciaga show seemed in eerie harmony with the pandemic zeitgeist. The outsize, opaque, goggle-style sunglasses on the runway looked almost normal in a room where most of the audience had half of their faces obscured under masks.

But the biggest surprise was that this was in many ways a very traditional couture show. The venue was an apartment that the label’s founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga, once used for shows, repurposed in recent years as a storeroom. Rather than stripping it out and remodelling the space, Gvasalia had it restored to its 1960s hushed elegance, complete with pale bourgeois carpets and soft drapes at the windows.

A model in a Balenciaga gown at the label’s haute couture show in Paris
A model in a Balenciaga gown at the label’s haute couture show in Paris. Photograph: Balenciaga

The small live audience took their seats on delicate gilt chairs, watched by viewers on a livestream where the footage was set to Red Garland’s jazz piano bar classic Almost Like Being In Love.

A denim jacket came with a traditional Balenciaga silhouette, the collar rolled and tugged open at the rear to reveal the nape of the neck; the matching five-pocket jeans had buttons in solid silver rather than aluminium. A floral-embroidered silk ballgown worn with opera gloves was based on a piece made for Jackie Kennedy.

The bride who closed the show, as is traditional in haute couture, wore a two-piece in the waist-obliterating double-balloon silhouette with which Balenciaga himself scandalised Paris over half a century ago.

The logic behind this expensive investment in a new catwalk platform is that Balenciaga, along with the industry’s other most traditionally prestigious names, urgently needs to regain control of the fashion narrative. During the pandemic, fashion weeks have gone dark and the traditional seasonal calendar has lost its relevance. Trends have been led by Nike and Netflix, rather than by the usual fashion week names. The reopening of haute couture represents Balenciaga pulling rank over those pretenders.

Speaking to the Business of Fashion website in advance of the show, Gvasalia said he saw reviving fashion in its most expensive form as an “anti-consumption” move. “Maybe somebody just stops buying sneakers and T-shirts for a year or two, and then they can have this amazing couture trench coat. I would love that,” he said.

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Chanel suit finds new fans in Gen Z channelling 90s nostalgia

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The Chanel suit, an outfit typically associated with ladies who lunch, has an unlikely new set of fans – Generation Z.

This month Olivia Rodrigo, the 18-year-old singer of hits including Driver’s Licence and Good 4 U, chose a pink and black vintage version for a visit to the White House to meet the US president, Joe Biden. Global fashion search platform Lyst said that following the appearance, searches for vintage Chanel rose by 200%.

Chanel suits have also been worn by Simone Biles on the cover of WSJ magazine, and by the cast in the Gossip Girl reboot. Jennie from the band Blackpink, meanwhile, wears the luxury label so much that she is sometimes called “Human Chanel” by fans.

Scene from Gossip Girl
The reboot of Gossip Girl. Photograph: BBC/PA

Rodrigo’s choice was a nod to First Lady style – its most famous wearer being Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the 60s – but the 90s are the focus of this revival. The singer’s suit is from Chanel’s spring/summer 1995 collection.

The references being made by the suit’s new Gen Z fans are more likely to be a young Helena Christensen on the catwalk in a Chanel suit and bikini top, Hilary Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or Cher Horowitz from the 1995 film Clueless. Instagram account @chanel_archives is a popular source for Chanel catwalk images from this era, whose high-profile followers include Ariana Grande and Tavi Gevinson.

Clueless
90s inspiration: Cher and Dionne in 1995’s Clueless. Photograph: Alamy

Chanel is, of course, a luxury brand and therefore expensive. Vintage suits on sites like Farfetch have prices starting at about £2,000. Those without rock-star budgets get the look with Chanel-like pieces on Depop, the resale app that Rodrigo uses herself, for as little as £25.

Depop’s global curation lead, Viviana Attard, who studies trends for the company, pinpoints the style as part of the rise of preppy look. “[Rodrigo] visually expressed a vibe that’s been gaining more traction lately – we’ve seen an increase in interest in listings and searches for the typical preppy look, recently brought back into fashion with the Gossip Girl reboot.”

Lyst’s content editor, Morgane Le Caer, argues that the different associations of the Chanel suit – the fact that it can signal preppy, first ladies, the 90s and the 60s – is a concept that appeals. “Gen Z style is … about creating a very personal world – or mood – through the juxtaposition of visual elements,” she says.

Ryan McMahon, who runs @chanel_archives, says he particularly likes the “kitsch” collections that Karl Lagerfeld produced for Chanel between 1990 and 1997.

“I think we’re in a generation of nostalgia, and everyone seems to be obsessed with looking back in fashion and remembering a time when fashion wasn’t so serious. Chanel in the 90s is a perfect example of this,” he says.

“Hopefully from my account people are discovering ways to style the Chanel suit in a fun and fresh way that can be youthful, which a skirt suit isn’t always assumed to be.”

Both Le Caer and Attard argue that the sustainability factor of vintage is important – and Rodrigo represents her generation here too. “[She] is a huge secondhand and vintage fan and makes environmentally conscious decisions with her fashion choices,” says Attard. “It’s no surprise she chose to wear vintage for such a high-profile and momentous occasion like visiting the White House.”

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Brows beaten: 10 of the best brow gels

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Some people are blessed with naturally full, exquisitely shaped brows, the kind of luscious gift that keeps on giving – . If that’s you, come back next week. Everyone else, keep reading. Brows frame your face, but getting the right size, shape, colour and density demands skill. Too thin or thick, wrong shade or shape, and your face looks off kilter. Thankfully there is help. Professional threading is great for keeping brows tidy. If they are sparse, a brow tint will provide an illusion of fullness. Alas, it doesn’t last very long. For longevity, head to Daxita Vaghela, aka “The Lash Queen” who now also does microblading – the tattooing technique that adds hair strokes to your brow. It has a realistic finish and lasts up to 18 months. If you don’t fancy anything permanent (or have a low pain threshold) stick to products. Many swear by brow pencils, they are great for filling in gaps and creating sharp outlines, but for a natural finish, you need a steady hand and a light touch. An easier option for great volume and density is a brow gel. You simply brush the product on to your brows and you’re done. For a full but natural and glossy look, try the clear variation. For a bolder brow, try colour – the Anastasia Beverly Hills range is excellent. Brow gels are fail safe. Just don’t waste time trying to make them look identical. Remember, brows are siblings, not twins.

1. Hourglass Arch Brow Volumising Fibre Gel £27, spacenk.com

2. Benefit Gimme Brow + Volumising Eyebrow Gel £22.50, benefitcosmetics.com

3. Anastasia Beverly Hills Tinted Brow Gel £23, cultbeauty.co.uk

4. L’Oréal Paris Unbelievabrow Long Wear Top Coat £10.99, boots.com

5. Chantecaille Full Brow Perfecting Gel £34, libertylondon.com

6. Too Faced Brow Wig £18, toofaced.co.uk

7. Charlotte Tilbury Brow Fix Sculpting Gel £19, charlottetilbury.com

8. BareMinerals Strength & Length Serum-Infused Brow Gel £18, bareminerals.co.uk

9. UOMA Beauty Brow Fro Volumising Brow Gel £23.50, beautybay.com

10. Kevyn Aucoin True Feather Brow Gel £22, lookfantastic.com

Follow Funmi on Twitter @FunmiFetto

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Let the Games begin! Tokyo 2020 kicks off with manga-inspired opening ceremony

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After a one-year delay, several scandals, and with the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic hanging over it, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finally kicked off on Friday.

Athletes from around the world not only stepped foot in the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony but also into the world of Japanese comics and graphic novels.

An orchestral medley of songs from iconic Japanese video games served as the soundtrack for the parade of countries at the ceremony.

The first song played on Friday was “Roto’s Theme” from the Dragon Quest series. Dragon Quest was enormously influential as the first console role-playing game, launching a genre. The parade also included the main Final Fantasy theme and “Victory Fanfare,” the song that plays when a player wins an encounter.

Another well-known song that was featured was “Star Light Zone,” from the original Sonic the Hedgehog. In addition to appearing in the original game, a remixed version appeared in the DS version of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.

Additionally, the placards for the country names for the parade of athletes used manga speech bubbles, and the costumes for the placard bearers and assistants had manga touches in their design.

No spectators for the 11,090 athletes

This kick-off marks more than just the beginning of two weeks of sporting feats, it is also the end of a long and tiring marathon for the Japanese organisers who have been waiting for this moment since 8 September 2013 and the designation of Tokyo as the host city of the 2020 Olympic Games.

But the 11,090 athletes making up the 206 delegations — which for the first time include as many women as men — ventured out to parade in front of a near-empty stadium.

In the grandstand of the venue, which can normally accommodate 68,000 spectators, stood Japanese emperor Naruhito, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, French President Emmanuel Macron and US First Lady Jill Biden.

These dignitaries and a few thousand other privileged guests will witness the lighting of the cauldron by the flame alighted on 12 March 2020 in Olympia, which traditionally marks the start of the Games.

But in a surprise move, after months of polls indicating hostility to the Games, Tokyo residents gathered in their hundreds around the Olympic Stadium before the ceremony.

They watched the Blue Impulse air patrol fly over the Japanese capital and sketch Olympic rings in the sky. They then posed next to the Olympic rings, carved on the stadium’s forecourt: “I’m delighted that the Games are starting, it’s a source of pride for me,” one Tokyo resident explained.

Tests, masks and a ban on families

To reassure the Japanese public, most of whom would have preferred another postponement or the outright cancellation of the Olympic fortnight, Japanese authorities took drastic measures: daily tests for athletes, compulsory masks for all, gatherings limited to the strict minimum in the Olympic Village, a ban on foreign athletes’ relatives and families coming to Japan and, last but not least, the almost total absence of spectators, something never seen before in the history of the Olympics.

Still, anti-Olympics protesters marched from Harajuku to Sendagaya ahead of the Olympic Games opening ceremony, criticizing the Japanese government for what some say is prioritising the Olympics over the nation’s health.

About 23% of the population of more than 120 million has been fully vaccinated, a number that has picked up since May but is still far short of where Japan’s government had hoped to be before the Olympics.

Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many other countries, logging about 853,000 cases and 15,100 deaths since the pandemic began. But infections have been surging, with Tokyo hitting a six-month high of 1,979 daily cases on Thursday.

The organisers of the event also have had to deal with several scandals including the resignation of the president of the organising committee, Yoshiro Mori, last February for sexist remarks, or that of the artistic director of the opening ceremony on Thursday for a bad joke about the Holocaust made more than twenty years ago.

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