This morning, I put on a nearly vintage Balenciaga sweater, dumped my stuff in a late 2000's Balenciaga bag, threw on a vintage Dior coat, and ran out for coffee. Now properly caffeinated, I've sat down to write a piece on Balenciaga's late 2022 scandal just six months after writing about not wearing problematic designers. Hypocrisy, or is this different?
A Little Backstory
Cristobal Balenciaga founded Balenciaga in 1919, when he was 24. Balenciaga's 50 year career was iconic, an overused word today that is truly the best description for a man revered by the likes of Christian Dior and Coco Chanel as a master of fashion. The label seemingly died with Cristobal in the late 60's, as no successor to 'the best' had been found.
Current parent company Kering revived the label in the 1980's, and late 90's- early 2010's creative director Nicolas Ghesquière was the highlight of the revival- a talented designer who did very well in a position where meeting the measure would be an impossible task. My few treasured Balenciaga pieces are from Ghesquière's time, with my 'City Pompon' bag (above) being my favorite, having regrettably sold my original 'City' years ago while balancing my education and Chicologie's start.
Briefly after Ghesquière, Alexander Wang, the not-so-shiny shining star of my first post on this topic directed Balenciaga. This time in his career came before his scandal, and I have to admit, he didn't do a bad job.
Cutting to the present, where the house of Balenciaga suffers through crimes against fashion made worse with every collection under the misdirection of Demna [Gvasalia]. Impeccable tailoring is now logo plastered sweatshirts, and creative accessories are now chunky neon sneakers. The majority of Balenciaga's bestselling pieces are simply the late designers disgraced name stamped on fast fashion silhouettes. There is a popular running joke that Demna has turned Balenciaga into a social experiment, making his designs progressively worse to make a mockery of the wearers, showing that many will forfeit taste for status. This idea does entertain me, but is likely not the case and is definitely not an appropriate use of the Balenciaga name. To be clear, and a little abrasive; I have genuinely despised Demna's Balenciaga for years, even before the scandal.
In late 2022, two separate Balenciaga campaigns captured the fashion world for the same reason- they appeared to be alluding to and mocking the sexualization of children. This topic is now over two months old, and writers far more qualified than I have covered it in detail. I found the most fact-forward and detailed coverage I could, and you can read it here. In very delicate summary, for those who may not be comfortable with an in-depth exploration of such a sensitive topic, one ad featured child models holding bags shaped like teddy bears, and the bears' outfits were arguably not suitable for children. In a following ad for a different campaign, prop-paperwork featured language from a US Supreme Court ruling, discussing (again, delicate summary here) child safety regarding the sexualization of children in media. The conclusion of the masses? Balenciaga endorses inappropriate conduct with children. Social media was flooded with consumers burning and slashing their own Balenciaga pieces, many calling for the end of Balenciaga and even parent company Kering, which also owns Gucci, YSL, and McQueen, to name a few.
What Makes This Different
For the first time since the idea of ethical accountability in fashion began to really, really spread, the offender is a fashion house, not a living designer. I will say that for me, accountability of some sort needed follow this scandal, but it should come to those responsible; Demna, and those directly in charge of creative direction and marketing for Balenciaga. While I don't see this as offense as intentionally dark to the extreme it reached, it's still more than a little mistake.
In the social media world of fashion, the 'torch and pitchfork wielding villager' mentality has been in full swing. As reactions grow, the thought behind them shrinks. Cutting your $2,000 Balenciaga bag in half to advocate for children does nothing. Burning a $1,000 hoodie for the same reason is, truly, stupid (but so is spending $1,000 on a hoodie). Donating to an organization that defends children from the real horrors they don't deserve to experience shows that you care. Making a spectacle of distancing yourself from Balenciaga's scandal shows that you care about looking like you care.
I'd like to say what I've been thinking to those who screamed and cried and wanted to condemn Balenciaga forever, but I doubt any of them are reading this, and I'm late on the topic. I'll say it anyway. I'm sure your knowledge of Balenciaga starts and ends with the awful hoodies and the horrible sneakers and lots and lots of Kanye West (a whole other can of worms I refuse to give any more attention to, by the way. Him, I'll cancel.) If you really want to make a scene online, then set your phone down and not give it a second thought, don't make that scene. If you're willing to cut your $2,000 Balenciaga bag in half for a TikTok but wouldn't donate $2,000 to a charity that does something for children, Don't make the Tiktok. Go touch some grass. Do not tear down the legacy of Cristobal Balenciaga because of what contemporary Balenciaga did. Balenciaga has been a magical part of fashion for over 100 years. Mr. Balenciaga has been dead for over 50. If he could, I'm sure he'd dig himself up, find Demna, and slap him. I'd bet he would've done it long before this, too.
If you've enjoyed this post, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to donate to Thorn, Defending Children From Sexual Abuse. I'd also like to offer you the opportunity to view Cristobal Balenciaga's work in the Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa here.