Balenciaga and the Limited-Edition Social Class

February 15, 2023

Graphic by Princeton Tran

“Eat the rich.”

A phrase that has revolution, power, and hunger embedded into the sounds of each syllable.

With fashion becoming more and more monetary-based, clothing prices inflate, and the sheer greed of people to own high-end pieces is converted into a price tag on the latest designer piece. Luxurious, notable brands are ravenous to create and satisfy, while the public is starved to consume.

In the fashion industry, everyone carries this brutal famine.

Balenciaga, the masters of haute couture, created a name for themselves through innovative designs that incorporated unconventional, feminine, and contemporary silhouettes. In modern day, Balenciaga is popular for their attention-calling, unique footwear. However, their recent shoe design released on their website in May earlier this year has sparked controversy as it showcased a tattered, worn-out, and dirty composition, taking on the name of the Paris Sneaker.

The Paris Sneaker is being sold for an outrageous price of nearly $2,000.

Balenciaga claims that the shoe’s purpose is to attack people who pay ludicrous amounts of money for multiple pairs of shoes, almost condemning the practice of fast fashion. To emphasize their message, there are only 100 shoes being sold. The brand claims the limited-edition pair “last forever,” juxtaposing its worn-out condition. When in reality, the design is an ironic, tone-deaf attempt at shedding light on the issue of fast fashion Balenciaga is contributing to themselves. The shoes do nothing more than glamorize the struggles of a class that is only able to afford fast fashion, or inexpensive, accessible clothing. Balenciaga lacks acknowledgement of the working class behind shaggy and unkempt shoes.

The brutal famine overcomes Balenciaga as they focus on the individualism ingrained by capitalism, a system that relies on free enterprise, competition, and the autonomy of a business controlled by individuals. Essentially, “survival of the richest.” This capitalist nature is reflected in the fashion industry by the contradictory competition the industry has turned itself into. Affluent, renowned brands like Balenciaga create designs like the Paris sneaker to be perceived with greater worth in the “dog eats dog” nature of the fashion industry, where the desire to be unique overcomes the importance of a design’s character. Balenciaga sought individuality and conversation starters, ignoring the harmful attack the design makes on the class who faces the struggles of capitalism daily. The nature of capitalism itself led Balenciaga to create a design that overshadowed the working class, ultimately devouring it, in an industry that devours one another.

The Paris sneakers step on the concrete created by the working class, people who spend their life wearing real tattered shoes. A class of people who must stay in low-paying, physically demanding jobs with no other option but to work to make a living. Blue collar workers, individuals recovering from substance abuse, those surviving without a home, or paycheck to paycheck. The luxuriously worn-out shoe laughs and treads in the faces of these people, with its comedic attempt to represent their lives and commodify them. Glamorizing them, wrapping them in a box, and presenting them as if they are a priceless, limited-edition item. To brands like Balenciaga, the working class is a limited-edition social class. The difference between Balenciaga's shoes and those that have been worn-out, is not the way they look, but the underlying worth of what each social class represents. Balenciaga put a price on the working class’s value and appointed insignificance to their name by glamorizing the worn-out shoes, and the struggle of those who wear them. The design epitomizes the utter lack of regard for those who are deemed unworthy by the system of capitalism and by higher social classes that admirable fashion brands fall into.

Graphic by Princeton Tran

High-end brands like Balenciaga take the word “struggle” and slap it on trends produced by the working class and claim it as theirs. Sweat shops and factory workers are the foundation of many fashion houses like Balenciaga. The “Made in Italy'' label embedded in the tags attached to Balenciaga’s products displays the brand’s confidence in its ethicality. The fashion house claims their brand is more sustainable and ethical because the final mass production stages are held in Italy, but forced labor is not just an abuse that happens in third world countries. The sweatshop scandal in Naples where Italian authorities exposed undocumented workers in Naples making goods for well known fashion houses in Europe proves that forced laborers are the transparent faces behind high fashion production. As Balenciaga continues to hide behind the cachet of the “Made in Italy” tag, they contribute to their ardent desires and the lower class’s struggles.

Commodification of the working class aesthetic is a frequent occurrence in the fashion world. Trends like “camp” fashion and blue collar worker wear (distressed items of clothing, ripped, filthy looking clothes) are prevalent in the rising fashion of this generation. Effortlessly worn-out, thrifted goods have become a major fashion statement. Young adults today prefer to strut pieces that are seen as unique approaches to fashion, which they define as thrifted items desired for their ironic value and contradiction to conventional editorial fashion. The limited edition worn-out Paris sneaker is an attractive product that follows the trends of the era because they fall under the category of recent fashion fads.

Balenciaga uses their endless supply of resources, popularity, and power to improve their brand image rather than using it to give credit where it is due — to the working class; the class whose struggle they commodified to create the Paris sneaker. However, organizations like The Salvation Army created the website as a counterattack to Balenciaga’s Paris Shoes. The website lists destroyed shoes worn by real people who struggle to find homes, with all profits going towards them to help rebuild their lives. The website is a step that can be defined as a revolutionary effort. Regardless of how many stories or shoes are shared about people in need, people will never stop caring about price tags, or being seen wearing high end clothes. Consumers will still buy Balenciaga's design rather than the shoes worn by people without homes because these real worn out shoes are considered unworthy. The design by Balenciaga gives no worth, attention, or meaning to the lives of people who struggle. Regardless of how much the working class pushes back, in this dog eat dog nature of the fashion industry, brands like Balenciaga are too focused on fulfilling their own individual hunger to consider that of the working class.

From fashion fads to famine in the fashion world, Balenciaga makes a name for themselves not only for their renowned designs, but for their contribution to the mirror the fashion industry has turned itself into. A mirror of the machine of capitalism.

As high end fashion brands continue to participate in the culture of this world and they selfishly consume and produce for themselves –

The working class will be left with nothing to eat but the rich.

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