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Kanye West and a masked Demna Gvasalia at the Balenciaga spring 2023 fashion show at the Stock Exchange in New York on May 22, 2022. Photo: Vincenzo La Torre

Balenciaga fashion show, attended by stars like Kanye, Offset and Megan Thee Stallion, is a sign of things to come at the luxury label

  • Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia debuted the Paris-based label’s latest collection at an event at the New York Stock Exchange attended by the likes of Kanye West
  • The show was a tale of two parts, with the first half featuring chic work-appropriate looks for grown-ups and the second a streetwear collaboration with Adidas

Balenciaga has been on a roll lately.

Helmed by Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia, the Paris-based brand – owned by the Kering Group, the company behind labels including Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta – has managed to weather the coronavirus pandemic and come through it relatively unscathed.

It has, in fact, thrived and delivered one blockbuster collection after another – not to mention viral (if often controversial) hits, such as its high-heeled Crocs, and those dirty sneakers that are still making headlines.
Its summer 2022 ready-to-wear collection, shown in October 2021, was one of the most talked-about shows in recent history, even by people outside the fashion industry. Set up as a film premiere, with an actual red carpet, the show featured the unveiling of a mini episode of The Simpsons that has so far racked up more than 10.1 million views on YouTube, a rarity for a brand-produced video.
A look from the Balenciaga spring 2023 show in New York.
A look from the Balenciaga spring 2023 show in New York.

Before that, Gvasalia debuted his first haute couture collection in July 2021, showing that he can do more than hoodies and “dad sneakers” and that the Parisian refinement that the brand was known for in the 20th century was not completely lost.

Then came mega influencers Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.
Kim Kardashian in a Balenciaga outfit at the Saturday Night Live after-party on October 10, 2021. Photo: GC images

Earlier this year, the two starred in one of the label’s campaigns and began showing up to events in Balenciaga. Bieber’s baggy suit at this year’s Grammy Awards show spawned countless memes, while the Balenciaga get-ups that Kardashian has been sporting – from the hot pink looks she wore to host US show Saturday Night Live to her all-black off-duty outfits in Los Angeles – have been fodder for celebrity websites.

Gvasalia knows a thing or two about creating buzz, which is why the designer chose a very unexpected spot for the unveiling of the brand’s summer 2023 collection: the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, the ultimate symbol of Western capitalism if ever there was one.

“It’s the first time we [did a] show in America and New York for me was an important place to come,” says Gvasalia in a post-show interview. “We thought about iconic places in New York, and the stock exchange has been my dad’s dream as he always wanted me to be a successful banker. I couldn’t miss this opportunity to be in such an iconic place.”

Justin Bieber at the 64th Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a Balenciaga suit. Photo: FilmMagic

Held on the trading floor of the building, the show was a celebrity magnet, attracting a star-studded front row.

Kardashian didn’t make an appearance – she was partying in Portofino, Italy, for the nuptials of her sister Kourtney to Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker – but the only celebrity able to outshine her these days did show up: her ex-husband, Kanye West.

He was joined by other VIPs including musicians Pharrell Williams, Offset and Megan Thee Stallion, and actresses Chloe Sevigny and Alexa Demie.

Chloe Sevigny (left) and Alexa Demie at the Balenciaga spring 2023 fashion show. Photo: Vincenzo La Torre

The show felt like two collections in one: the first section, in which models walked to the sound of the iconic New York, New York, featured chic work-appropriate looks for grown-ups with jobs, while the second part – against a pounding techno beat – was a collaboration with sportswear giant Adidas. All the models wore latex masks, a trick that made it easier for Gvasalia to style the collection.

“At Balenciaga, we cater to different types of clients. We already have the streetwear, sport-inspired client but Garde-Robe [the first part] is something new and is actually where I come from,” says Gvasalia, referring to a new range featuring upscale, classic and more expensive garments made in France.

“People know me for hoodies but the first piece I did was a tailored jacket, so for me there was a missing link at Balenciaga.”

A look from the Balenciaga spring 2023 show in New York.

The brand is known, especially in Asia, for approachable entry-level offerings such as the Triple S sneakers. It now aims to target a more sophisticated and wealthy clientele – shoppers who buy less but better and tend to go for the logo-free, big-ticket items that truly define a luxury brand.

The already-available Adidas collab, however, is what’s going to sell out and make headlines, even though the sportswear brand recently collaborated with high-end labels such as Prada and Gucci.

“I’ve always wanted to use the three stripes and the logo, and as a seven-year-old kid I had an Adidas tracksuit – that was my biggest fashion moment as a child, so it’s linked to my personal story,” says Gvasalia.

A pair of sneakers from the Balenciaga and Adidas collaboration.
A look in collaboration with Adidas from the Balenciaga spring 2023 show.

Gvasalia’s skill at combining commercial viability with forward-thinking and directional shows has been his key to success at Balenciaga.

“The biggest challenge is to make products that are desirable, that’s what we’re trying to do every day,” he says. “Sometimes [they’re] desirable, sometimes [they’re] less desirable but the success of a product is desirability and it’s the most difficult thing for a designer.”

Lauren Santo Domingo, founder of luxury online retailer Moda Operandi, was one of the many guests who brought up the recent dip in the stock market and the fortuitous timing of the show.

“It’s amazing how far ahead Demna is and that we’re here in Wall Street, in a bear market [when a stock or market index drops by at least 20 per cent] and on the verge of a recession, and you have all these faceless men and women off to do important things in the face of our precarious times. It was fascinating,” she says after the show.

A look from the Balenciaga spring 2023 show in New York.
This is the first time that Balenciaga has held a destination show, something that has been a long-time practice for mega brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Gucci. The event feels like the beginning of things to come at Balenciaga, and is a clear sign that Kering is investing more to propel the rapid growth of the label under Gvasalia and its CEO, Cédric Charbit.

With Balenciaga and the luxury industry in general relatively unaffected by the turbulent market – at least for now – Gvasalia strikes a positive note. “If you watch the news, you can’t have confidence in anything,” he says. “I’m an optimist … there are ups and downs but there will be hard moments and good ones.”