The brand's Spring 2022 collection raises questions about authorship and identity in the digital age

Balenciaga’s Spring 2022 presentation is all about virtual identity—the world’s slow march toward what looks like wall-to-wall digital cloning. The collection is best-experienced via its accompanying video, directed by Quentin Deronzier and set to a composition by techno-symphonic artist, BFRND. The latter’s sci-fi inspired track plays under a deadpan AI recitation of “La Vie En Rose.”

The show features a sole model, artist Eliza Douglas, as she walks in person and then in perfectly lifelike animation. Sometimes, her CG-scanned likeness is imposed onto other bodies. The decision to ‘clone’ Douglas refers explicitly to the critique that appears at the start of Deronzier’s video: “We see our world through a filter—perfected, polished, conformed, photoshopped. We no longer decipher between unedited and altered, genuine and counterfeit, tangible and conceptual, fact and fiction, fake and deepfake.”

While the show’s atmosphere is undeniably moody, Balenciaga introduces clothing that’s playful, even satirical. Several looks feature chainmail headgear in metal tones, and colorful graphic prints. There are bright, ultra-pleated, cocoon-like dresses and overcoats. Certain pieces riff on debates surrounding ownership and appropriation in the fashion industry—Balenciaga notably presents handbags derived from Gucci’s most recognizable designs. Double-G’s become double-B’s, and products are stamped with a tongue-in-cheek assertion: “This Is Not a Gucci Bag.”

As Douglas and her renderings tramp down the runway, it’s easy to ignore the video’s periphery—rows of expressionless onlookers watch her walk, recording with a-hundred-or-so extended smartphones. They move like a joint machine, turning slowly in unison, dressed cohesively and all-in-black. Douglas is cloned, but so is her audience, perhaps even more insidiously. And so are we, Baleciaga seems to suggest—part of the digital crowd by extension, watching through our screens.