by Anmol AhujaJan 05, 2022
The refurbishment of a space already adaptively reused from a set of derelict aviation fuel tanks is an interesting story in itself: a feat by all means, and possible only through the intervention of a giant such as the Spanish luxury fashion house, Balenciaga. Structured originally as five aviation fuel containers serving the erstwhile Longhua airport, the complex was transformed into an art and culture park by Shanghai-based OPEN Architecture. While two of these tanks were transformed into art galleries, the other three were made into multi-functional exhibition, leisure and activity spaces. It is in one of these tanks that Balenciaga houses its precious Couture collection, transforming the space into a Couture salon, a showroom, a grand hall, and a banquet room for a five-day schedule of viewings, fittings, tours, and performances.
The collection and the resultant architectural intervention also serve as a great testament to the notion of a cultural trade epicentre slightly shifting towards the East, and just how big of a market China actually is to be eyed on priority for global brands selling both consumer and luxury goods. The collection also bears special significance as the first Couture collection for Georgian fashion designer Demna Gvasalia, who is also currently serving as the director for Balenciaga. “As China isn’t able to travel to Europe either, I felt it was our duty to bring the Balenciaga 50th Couture Collection there. I am proud to share with China this very important moment celebrating the culture, craftsmanship, and heritage of Balenciaga,” stated Gvasalia in an official release.
The newly transformed interiors of the gallery are slowly revealed to visitors and onlookers approaching the cylindrical structure from the courtyard, in the form of an expanse of cream-coloured curtains, shimmering in warm lighting, throwing hints of the spaces’ new interiors. Once inside, patrons are greeted to an environment and interior design scheme influenced by Balenciaga’s signature aesthetic tropes, also visible in the brand’s recently restored historic Couture salon and atelier, 10 Avenue George V. Framed in expansive fenestrations enveloping the linear and cylindrical concrete forms, the space is rounded out by abundant drapery and carpets in pale monochrome and warmly backlit ceiling panels, creating a confounding ambience, in-line with the luxuriant and opulent design language of the brand's retail design. Suitably so, the furniture items outlining the space within are replicas of the furniture used for Balenciaga’s first Couture shows in 1930s Paris.
Nineteen of the looks from Gvasalia’s first couture collection, and Balenciaga’s first since 1967 when founder Cristóbal Balenciaga left the fashion design industry, are mounted on equally spaced invisible mannequins, lined along the circular footprint of the display hall. The ceiling of the hall is decorated with the same pale drapery, pleated into concentric circles minimising towards the centre, creating the impression of a pristine yet fluid space, inherently linked to the complete ‘malleability’ of fabric.
The remaining 11, rounding up the 30 in the current collection, are lined in a bespoke dressing suite built along the bank of the Huangpu river, with several rooms alongside corresponding to the traditional couture ceremony. A salon for clients and their entourage to view pieces, a walled-off podium for taking a client’s measurements, and a private changing area round out the spatial programme for these rooms, along with serving as ancillary spaces for the main display. The exclusivity of the collection is further earmarked by this being the first time a Balenciaga couture collection has been showcased outside of Paris, marking an apt return for the fashion house as couturiers.