Under the creative direction of Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga has a clear vision for the brand: “luxury clothes can only be worn, not for storage.” Perhaps wanting to emphasise on the functionality of the brand, the high-end brand draws attention to the quality and durability of the materials under the mask of simplistic and modern designs which last through the test of time. Balenciaga’s collections have always been sustainable this way: they last through the changing fashion seasons and usage in our daily lives. Yet, has the brand taken it one step too far this time?
Balenciaga has recently caused an online buzz with its newest release: the Balenciaga Paris Sneaker. The dedicated campaign for the collection shows the shoes in extremely worn, marked up, and dirtied condition. Whilst the actual product itself will not be as tattered as the campaign visuals, the still portraits — taken by photographer Patricia Schwoerer and artist Leopold Duchemin — suggest that Paris Sneakers are meant to be worn for a lifetime. A dramatisation of how one would ‘abuse’ their sneakers, there is a clever hidden meaning that is layered in between the frayed and rugged canvas.
That is, from a creative stand of view.
For one, I am both a creative and also a consumer. On one hand, I applaud the creatives behind the campaign and designation of the shoes. Balenciaga has been known to do meme marketing for a while now. Those familiar with the fashion scene and luxury brand would recall the eras of Thai Sampeng bags, platform Crocs, and the leather Ikea Frakta bag. Hence my first thought when I saw the shoes was, “what are they up to now?” Clearly, their marketing worked splendidly. It got people talking, and all of a sudden everyone was discussing Balenciaga. It does not matter which side you are on; whichever it is, you are already ensnared. Not only that, I have to give it up for the conceptualisation of the Paris Sneaker too. The imagery of a beaten up pair of sneakers is not something foreign to many. It is something one would see after wearing the same pair for, say, ten years or so. It is relatable, understandable by many, and ironically quite hilarious.
Now, allow me to change my point of view.
Switching my perspective to that of a consumer, I am baffled to say the least. Why would I pay a whopping US$1,850 to wear a pair of shoes that look like it has survived my worst nightmares? Unless you put me in a room filled with fashion geeks, I can safely say that the people I meet at the supermarket will eye me up and down, questioning if my sneakers are my family heirloom — so much so that I refuse to chuck it out after the hardships life has thrown at it. Perhaps though, this is why Balenciaga decided to only release 100 pairs of this. Is the Paris Sneaker meant to be an inside joke for the fashionistas, something that will make you go ‘a-ha!’ when you see another fellow Paris Sneaker wearer down south on a Saturday afternoon? Maybe.
Would I spend that much money to be part of a hyper-exclusive group of sneakerheads? Personally, no. I myself am not a big fan of shoes, and the collection to me is something akin to a satire. Will I smile and be amused if I see someone donning a pair? Definitely. I may even go up and strike a conversation with them, very much impressed that they understood and wore the literature on their feet (literally).
Balenciaga, you might just create another secret code for fashion lovers all over the world again. To that, I will raise my toast to you.