Successful fashion campaigns are all about starting conversations; however, not everything that gets people talking is “nice and gorgeous”. Recently, luxury French fashion brand Balenciaga unveiled its limited-edition destroyed Paris sneaker collection for $1,850 (approx 1.4 lakh INR), and was slammed by ethical fashion advocates like Diet Prada, Livia Firth, and many netizens for the exorbitant pricing. Latest in fashion, the tattered sneakers destroyed with scuffs, tears, and markings received backlash for mocking the homeless, and are described as a “pre-worn look” by the official website of the brand.
While songwriter Neena Roe called out Balenciaga for its “poverty-chic” design, ethical fashion supporter Livia Firth (ex-wife of actor Colin Firth) wrote a post slamming the campaign. “To buy something so destroyed is beyond offensive towards people I’ve actually met who wore shoes like this because they couldn’t afford even basic meals. What is Balenciaga trying to say? Fashion is art, yes, and provocations have been many during its history. But what is the statement here?” expressed Firth in a livid Instagram post.
Taking a dig at these costly, fully-destroyed sneakers, many netizens trolled the brand with memes and sarcastic comments. But industry experts call it a clever marketing risk for publicity. According to Anchit Kapil, co-founder of sneaker and lifestyle brand Crepdog Crew, “It’s a marketing ploy by Balenciaga to gather eyeballs. I doubt there will be much interest or demand in the subcontinent, especially when it comes to resale. Every college kid in India has a pair of Converse that look like this after the monsoon.
Jokes aside, while the ‘worn out’ look is in, there is a very thin line between fashioning a worn-out look and something which looks dirty. Balenciaga as a big brand can afford such marketing risks.”
Although the allegations of “poverty chic” and “homeless fashion” have backfired for many brands in the past, it happens to be a tried-and-tested approach to bohemian fashion. According to veteran model and shoe lover Amit Ranjan, “I believe distressed look with time will be called classic because it has survived the test of time and trickled down to mass labels. Fashion is always inspired by life, and the distress trends are inspired by a hippie, a bohemian traveler, or a biker who sports a distressed look by choice. It is the original cool and people find it fascinating, so the so-called homeless look has always been in vogue. I feel the design team for Balenciaga must have worked hard to create a distressed look and make it utility art. Keeping in mind the technical aspect of the shoe and believe me that’s work, people usually price the product. Pricing the limited edition is open to interpretation, it can be sarcasm or maybe the shoe mocks the rich who will pay just because it’s Balenciaga. For me, this is brilliant story-telling.”
Crossing the fine line:
Whether one likes it or not, the bigger challenge for the brand is always to convert the controversy to sales. While provocative art and fashion has always offended some sections of the society, there’s a fine line between free-expression and ridicule. Agreeing with the classic appeal of such campaigns and trends, GICW designer Charini Suriyage sums up, “I would vouch for timeless fashion rather than extreme fads. Luxury brands are powerful and impactful when manipulating a trend to communicate important social messages or concepts which are more related to press impact than increasing bottom line.”