How Balenciaga transitioned into a tech lifestyle brand
The luxury fashion house has had many reincarnations since its visionary designer retired 50 years ago. Today, gamers and crypto degens are flocking to the brand for cheeky tech-centric clothing that speaks to them. What is driving this reemergence of style and tech from an iconic traditional fashion brand? $VV investigates.
The fashion industry is fascinating. It's hard to imagine what it was like before the internet since fashion and technology are synonymous with culture and trends. If you think about it, the two worlds do overlap a lot. Especially with how much e-commerce and digital protocols take center stage and deliver to customers across the globe. Now decentralized fashion has arrived and it's not a new idea.
In fact, with the rise of industrial fashion, companies like SoftWear Automation used robots to cut and sew designs to mass produce garments worldwide in the early 1900s.Now, artificial intelligence algorithms predict style trends and clothes to be worn in virtual reality. An array of innovations show how technology is automating, personalizing, and speeding up the decentralized fashion space.
But there is still one thing that has never changed: the need for beautiful designs. That's where Balenciaga comes in, bridging those two worlds with its use of new technologies and trends while still delivering beautiful timeless designs
Balenciaga has always been at the forefront of innovation in trending fashion and currently decentralized fashion. From the introduction of the zipper to creating the first pair of square-toed shoes, Balenciaga has introduced many innovations over its 90-year history.
Currently, it seems Balenciaga is taking another step forward by using its technology to help solve some significant problems in fashion today: sustainability and accessibility.
In an interview with Fashionista, creative director Demna Gvasalia said this new digital platform would allow customers to shop for new pieces in real-time without waiting for shipments from stores worldwide.
In addition, this new technology will enable customers to see how their clothes fit before making a purchase.It will also allow them to quickly return items if they don't work out as planned. These advancements are a stark contrast from the typical shopping experience in the past.
In the early 20th century, fashion was a means of showing off one's wealth and status. Women struggled with what they could wear in public. Even pants were considered too scandalous. But in the 21st century, fashion is used to express one's identity and individuality.
Cristobal Balenciaga was a conquistador in his own right. Balenciaga founded the brand in San Sebastián, Spain, in 1919. What started as a brand for well-off women became streetwear's chicest wearable looks inspired by culture.
In 2017, when the French government Tourism Board invited me to Paris to write about culture for the Huffington Post, I started exploring the Balenciaga brand archives. I requested a tour of this exhibition at the Bordelle Museum. As a fashion journalist at that time, I wanted to see with my eyes the relationship between sculptures, a woman's body, and then the clothing. I entered the museum, sunlight, and quiet; each garment was behind glass. It was interesting to see dresses, skirts, and ornate hats from the viewpoint of art.
Balenciaga is a brand that has always been ahead of its time. In 1958, the designer created the "Baby Doll" dress, which earned him the Legion of Honor award.
Ten years later, he retired after achieving many collaborations with the likes of Roger Vivier, producing a perfume, and debuting many dress styles.
He was known as "the only real couturier" or "The Sculptor-Tailor" since much of his work featured black fabrics and was ornately decorated with perfect stitch patterns.
Fast forward to 2019. The brand has managed to stay true to its forward-thinking ethos. Fashion has always undergone rapid development in society. People shaped their societal roles around what they wore.
Today, there is no element of pop culture safe from Balenciaga. The luxury brand developed a men's ready-to-wear line in 2004. Resulting in the appointment of edgy and modern creative directors to lead the helm of the couturier.
Balenciaga has become even more popular in recent years thanks to its men's wear line and creative directors Nicolas Ghesquiere (2002–2016) and Demna Gvasalia (2016–present).
Gvasalia was named creative director at Balenciaga after working as creative director at Louis Vuitton. He immediately made his mark on the fashion industry by introducing new concepts. Such as "ready-to-wear" menswear that combines high fashion with street style elements like oversized hoodies and chunky sneakers.
Under Gvasalia’s leadership, the brand slowly started adopting and redefining its audience by presenting tech-forward collections with a strong science angle.
For example, most recently, Balenciaga collaborated with NASA and debuted its collection with knitted tee shorts, sweaters, and custom tech accessories to hold earpods, cameras, and other digital nomad devices.
When we think of Balenciaga, we don't just think of the brand's incredible fashion. After Gvasalia took over as creative director for Balenciaga in 2015, he transformed the company into a digital fashion pioneer. He was faced with a brand that was struggling to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded market.
So, he turned to celebrities like Kanye West and new tech like cryptocurrency—together, they created a winning formula for success! Thanks to Demna's leadership, the brand has used the celebrity effect, rap culture, crypto-collectibles, and more to make a statement during its 2020 collection.
During that show, models strutted down the runway filled with water raising awareness around climate change. More models followed with their hair wrapped in USB cords—a reference to the fact that data is now stored on USB drives instead of CDs or DVDs.
It was such an eye-catching statement! Balenciaga also collaborated with the super popular game Fortnite for its Spring 2019 collection—one of the first companies to do so! Digital and the concept of decentralized fashion was still just a topic on Reddit boards at that time.
When Demna Gvasalia grabbed the helm of Balenciaga, he made a statement and brought his curiosities with him. He changed the game for what it meant to inspire and captivate the next generation of luxury buyers. He brought the brand into the modern era and made it an icon for contemporary luxury fashion.
With his edgy approach to design, he created products that were unlike anything else in the industry. From architectural-inspired handbags to oversized jackets with shoulder pads, not only did he change how people viewed Balenciaga, but he changed the course trajectory of the brand.
But what about crypto and Web3? In 2016, Balenciaga announced it would present their collection as a virtual reality video game experience. After hearing this, I was ecstatic and inspired enough to create my own VR experience. Traversing through that experience was cool, yet filled with a lot of friction around user experience and actually buying the clothes within this futuristic medium. Customers and brand fans could immerse themselves in the VR world and get a tour of the latest threads.
This past summer, the brand launched a new metaverse division to stay current with the trends. Additionally, it teamed up with Crypto.com exchange and Defy Trends to launch “Cristóbal Balenciaga: To the Moon” NFT. The 8,000 piece collection was minted on Ethereum with the idea to “collect, preserve and share” his designs for future generations,” according to CoinTelegraph. The collection didn’t perform or mint well. There were too many cooks in the kitchen.
Fast forward to today, the Paris show was giving “unfuckablewith” and I’m here for the drama.
The Balenciaga Summer 2023 show was a work of art. It was a poetic, visceral display of the pain and suffering that comes with war. Not surprisingly, Kanye West walked the runway first, dressed in full on commander gear. Solidifying his relationship that he's in charge of inspiring Demna'ssion.
It was a battlefield of mud, with soldiers leaving for the front and civilians holding their children and packing their bags for the journey ahead. Some soldiers (ahem models) were carrying teddy bear-esque bags, others wore their children on their chests. Others had massive bags to take everything with them, while others models strutted the war field in chiffon red, yellow and black sequined gowns. Some models had bruises and scars on their faces—they were the soldiers who had already been through the war. Some models walked with a straight back and looked immaculate—they were the captains leading the troops.
They've designed this collection to show how we can all live in our truth without fear or hesitation. The 2022 energy is change, liberation, and elevation. This brand is feeling it and designing for who they resonate with within their power.
It's October, we are moving into eclipse season. The theme of polarity will be significant as we move through the end of the year. This sense of division is coming through within our society. So much of the focus on Balenciaga is dressing for this new energy and massive global shift. There will be more chaos with politics and the environment, but we must bring it back to the joy and essence. Not to mention, we are still in a bear market. The charts are super red and bloody. We are being prepared for war, and it's a huge statement, especially in a fashion collection. But you can still be you and go for your dreams and ambitions. That's why community is so essential; navigating this through our clothing and listening to our intuition is paramount.
Fashion is a reflection of society. When we think of fashion today, it's moving into genderless garments. This strategy is definitely a departure from Balenciaga's usual practice of using only models with an hourglass figure.
Moreover, reminiscing about Balenciaga's 51st show, celebrity personalities modeled beautiful clothing in shiny black helmets that covered their face. That speaks to where we are going as a society; it shouldn't matter what you look like or who you identify with—the collection was solely on the clothing and the structure. I found that super interesting as society debates gender and what's appropriate.
For a reason mentioned earlier, this is why the brand is so relatable to crypto and tech: Demna Gvasalia and Balenciaga are decentralized fashion systems. You don't need to fit in a particular box to wear the clothes; you can choose whatever suits your identity at any given moment.
Both Crypto and Web3 embrace a “come as you are” ethos. You can show up in a ripped shirt and still feel luxurious and important. Isn’t that the same affect women from the early 1900s wanted to portray?
As we move into a world of decentralized identities, I do think decentralized fashion will be first in command. We're not going to be split into women's and men's sections; it will be one offering, and you'll choose what suits your needs at that moment.
References & Inspiration
Balenciaga and Fortnite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gKiVi3tmqI
Balenciaga Climate Change Show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QMugKSXFWQ
US Midtown Elections: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/us-midterm-elections-2022
Natalie Miles and 2022 Identity Changes: https://natalie-miles.com/
Atmos the Front line : https://atmos.earth/topic/environmental-justice-newsletter-frontline/
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