Balenciaga Gets Dirty At Paris Fashion Week

What Happened: In the Parisian suburbs near Charles de Gaulle airport, a select few were invited to Balenciaga’s Spring 2023 collection. A collaboration with Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, the dark oppressiveness of wet soil covered the venue, from walls to underfoot, and even formed the runway itself: a filthy, dystopian building site.

The show opened with none other than Kanye West wading through the dirt path along to a dense soundtrack by BFRND. He was followed by 74 models wearing an assortment of distressed jeans, hoodies, and eveningwear, as well as, of course, a curation of accessories and props. These included neon snake-like scarves (which seemed to move as they bounced up and down upon the wearer), oversized bags with armholes, prosthetic baby dolls, and…a Lays crisp-packet.

Kanye West and Bella Hadid in Balenciaga’s Spring 2023 collection. Photo: Courtesy

The Jing Take: When you think of luxury, what is the very last thing that springs to mind? Mud. Dirt. Is it not blasphemous then to use a €1,000 (7,000 RMB) sneaker to splosh around in this? “No, because it’s real,” said Demna backstage. “The last show looked at snow, so what happens when that melts? You are left with mud.” This was his starting point. But it went deeper, and the set became a metaphor: for digging for truth, for being — literally — down to earth. 

In China, the livestream drew over 30 million views on Weibo, with the brand already being a Gen Z favorite. KOL Mia Kong, who flew in for Paris Fashion Week, told Jing Daily: “Models as “Young ‘dads’ carrying their babies on the runway was very impressive. In short, very Balenciaga, very Demna, naive, cold, and beautiful.” Homegrown mandopop king Jay Chou and the Hong Kong star Sammi Cheng were also present. (Netizens were surprised to see them united again: these two names once cooperated in a beverage advertisement, 18 years ago.)

In August, Balenciaga’s Trash Pouch priced at $1,790 (12,104 RMB) hit the Weibo hot search list because it resembled a “garbage bag.” Related topics have been viewed over 250 million times even though the item was never available on the official Chinese website. But there’s no mistaking that the appetite is there. In September, the house opened its first Guangzhou store in the mall Taikoo Hui Guangzhou so as to continue its wooing of the mainland.

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In the hands of Demna, Balenciaga is far removed from its roots but this event shows the power of his disruptive genius. What’s striking is how many ways there are to read what is ostensibly a simple, sensationalist act: from themes of reality in a post-truth world, to the references to Pina Bausch, or an undeniable sense of the show’s stark environmental warning. The designer, in his own words, hates labels, hates being put in a category. Good. It’s exactly this kind of multi-layered, instigative approach that will play well in China — where thinking outside the box is an absolute must. 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.