Milan – Spinning visual humdrum into high fashion – from IKEA totes to Crocs to ‘t-shirt shirts’ – is what Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia seems to do best. On Montenapoleone in Milan, though, the jig doesn’t hold up: Balenciaga’s new flagship is nothing if not Gvasalia’s brand of ironic, but it lacks substance.
The designer’s direction at Balenciaga is likely already a case study in the curriculum of some consumer psychology course, and the bare-boned interiors in Milan shouldn’t escape the investigation. There’s carpeting designed by artist Cayetano Ferrer using repurposed prints from closed American casinos. The rest of the space is entirely industrial, blanketed in grey and aluminium.
The choice begs the question: What exactly is Gvasalia doing choosing to import Las Vegas tacky to a heritage fashion brand in Italy’s fashion capital? Getting closer to the answer requires a foray into the subtext of the original delirious carpets themselves.
The carpet is an intentional cognitive challenge, not an innocent oversight in taste
There are a variety of speculations as to why Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio and the like have carpets that look like a bevy of textile designers dropped acid. They camouflage stains. They obscure fallen poker chips, to be later collected by the casino. But most importantly, they’re designed to distract, to keep people gambling. And, on the first-floor of the Balenciaga flagship, a clear parallel can be drawn: the satirical rendering of intoxicating gaudiness actually keeps people buying. It’s an intentional cognitive challenge, not an innocent oversight in taste.
Gvasalia, as a designer, has a notorious tendency toward provocation; contortion of the essential and vandalism of beauty standards are now to be expected from the designer. But inspiration must always part down two roads: where Robert Venturi famously learned from Las Vegas, Gvasalia mocks it. The general danger in taking the latter approach, especially as consumers are first and foremost people looking for hope during these currently tense times, is losing the ability to see when the joke has stopped being funny. Michelle Obama wearing thigh-high Balenciaga glitter boots breaks the Internet; imitating Vegas carpets does not.
Demna Gvasalia’s elegance-is-dead ideology has massively impacted the fashion industry, but it would be a shame if that spreads to retail’s interiors, too. If you’re spending a month’s pay cheque on garments that have a week-long shelf life on Instagram for hypebeasts, a bit of spatial gratitude goes a long way. As in any casino, one must step outside to see the light.