The fashion world was almost turned upside down yesterday when benches supporting some of the most well-dressed derrières in the business collapsed at the Balenciaga show during the international collections in Paris.
Onlookers tweeted from the exclusive event as first one black plastic bench, then three more, cracked under the weight of those sitting on them – among whom were the actor Charlotte Gainsbourg and the photographer Mario Testino.
Some leapt up before the seating gave out but others, including the former editor of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld, and American doyenne Anna Wintour, were not so lucky.
When the fourth bench began to creak, the audience was asked to stand. It will be the first show for decades during which the likes of Wintour and her creative director, Grace Coddington, have had to stand. There were no reports of injuries but the actress Salma Hayek had to stand on an ankle bandaged even before the crisis unfolded. The uproar was captured on Twitter. "Benches cracking at Balenciaga as guests leap up," posted the fashion critic of The New York Times, Cathy Horyn. "A second one just carted off. Now a third broke and nervous buzz starts, as in 'me next?'"
"Third bench collapse, I am now panicking," tweeted Sophia Neophitou, editor-in-chief of Ten magazine. "The humiliation and injury... Outfit malfunction and knicker-flashing!"
Balenciaga is one of the most influential labels on the Paris schedule and its shows are intimate and notoriously exclusive affairs. Those present remarked that the audience on their feet looked as if they were in church, and initial reviews suggest the collection was deserving of such reverence.
The designer Nicolas Ghesquière showed stiffly futuristic tailoring, cut to a broad-shouldered silhouette in sheeny peach, wine and silver tones, finished with zip detailing and wide, rigid pleats. Ingeniously moulded peg trousers came in indigo denim finishes and were worn with swirling modernist prints, while headgear was reminiscent of sci-fi sou'westers. Balmain's Olivier Rousteing provided minidresses and shoulder-padded jackets glittering with gold sequins, chains and studs.
Technical hitches during fashion shows are more common than one might expect. Space is normally tight and even the front rows are jam-packed. Most shows begin with an ungainly scrum at the door and models regularly fall over.
In 2005, Hilary Alexander, the former fashion director of The Daily Telegraph, narrowly avoided injury when a bank of lights fell from the ceiling at a Diane von Furstenberg show. The designer was seen in tears at the scene, helping those who were hit and offering to cover all medical bills. Rumour has it, she loaned her limo and driver to Alexander for the rest of New York Fashion Week.
There is no need for such action at Balenciaga, although the upbraiding the bench manufacturers will no doubt face is not to be envied. Neither bodies nor pride were hurt. On the contrary, onlookers described the grace of Carine Roitfeld – who has in past seasons been banned from the label's show – as she slipped but did not fall to the floor.