The buffoon Balenciaga has made of us, one year after the launch of the Triple S
The shoe that started it all: the Balenciaga Triple S
By Raiment Young
I see it so often on Instagram that it is, in all honesty, starting to wear me down. Some observers think that the Balenciaga Triple S is cresting. A year after it was launched, it should be, but it isn’t. The shoe that started the craze for what would become dad—and then ugly—shoes, is still too big, too visible and too attention-grabbing, and a teller of how trendy you are, and how you are able—and willing—to spend four figures on sneakers.
I didn’t realise what an impact this one shoe style has had on people’s sneaker choices until a friend of mine rejected a suggestion I offered when he finally succumbed to dad shoes by saying that my humbly-priced pick “wasn’t chunky enough” (did he also mean inadequately ugly? To be fair, he still bought it in the end). Not long after, at the Fila store in ION Orchard, a skinny girly flatly rejected her boyfriend’s selection of the Disruptor II, telling him flatly “my friends’ Balenciagas are more bigger (sic)”. Looks like Balenciaga has set the standard for big, ugly shoes just as Kim Kardashian has for ample, round posteriors.
More pairs of the Triple S, including the Half & Half (middle), this season, as seen at Dover Street Market Singapore
I am not certain where this will lead to. Backlash is certainly not yet in sight. You’d think that by now, the second autumn/winter season after it was launched, the popularity of the Triple S would have waned, or mocked. But Balenciaga has released new colour ways for this time of the year, and people are still buying them, indicating that the market is yet to be satiated. But one silhouette may not be enough (even when there was the Half & Half colour iteration in June). To make sure you get your fill of horrifically chunky sneakers, the brand that Demna Gvasalia has made bigger added the even more bombastic Track to tempt. Or, fool.
I am not sure if the chunky sneaker rose in tandem with the general ballooning of fashion silhouettes seen some years back, but I do suspect that it is has everything to do with fashion’s near-obsession with going to the dumps to look for scraps that can be used to cook up a storm that can cater to a feeding frenzy. Sneaker designs have traditionally veered towards the sleek (aerodynamic?). Sure, Nike has had success with relatively hunky silhouettes (excluding basketball shoes) such as the Air Max 90 and the Air Huarache, but Balenciaga’s not-destined-for-court-or-track sneakers are deliberately designed to make anything Common Projects offers look anorexic.
The follow-up to the Triple S, the Track
The deformed chunkiness of these shoes have led them to be described as ugly. But ugly, by then, has lost much of its original meaning, and is suffering from an identity crisis. I remember once ugly was not desirable; it was not nice to look at; it was disagreeable to our sense of what beautiful was. Then I see ugly is ugly no more. It is not aesthetically- or optically-challenged. Ugly is declared so ugly that it is no longer so. Fans negate ugly’s former ugliness so that it can be embraced as wearable loveliness. Ugly has not gone astray; it’s simply gone, just as there is, today, no more ugly past, ugly behaviour, ugly choices.
Or ugly shoes. Fashionable folks took to kicks of what should have been unsightly looks as if the wearers’ feet, too, have transmogrified in tandem with the transformation of ugly. Women no longer want to have dainty feet (or the “incredibly narrow”, as we’re told, pair of Fantastic Beasts’ Porpentina Goldstein); they want to look clumpy at ground level. I once heard a diminutive girl in Gucci asking for a Rhyton, described by one e-tailer as “satisfyingly chunky”, in one size larger than her usual so that the sneakers will “look heaving”. When told that she may trip if she ran in them, she said disdainfully, “I never run.”
Gucci Rhyton, another ugly shoe that stays stubbornly popular
Ugly sneakers now constitute such a legit category that shoppers refer to them unhesitatingly as such: I often hear even non-sneakerhead men and women say, “I need to get myself ugly shoes.” But ugly, as I recall, did not visit sneakers first; it went to heels—Alexander McQueen’s “Armadillo” boots come to mind. Surprisingly, ugly/clunky heels didn’t take off, perhaps because they did not look comfortable or sturdy. Sneakers, however, did. As the ugliness rest on the foundation of thick, fortified-looking mid-soles, it give the impression of robust built. Teetering versus grounded: it’s not a tough choice.
As with clothing, adopters of ugly sneakers take their pick with no consideration to suitability or proportion in relation to, say, limbs, specifically ankles. These catamaran-as-shoes often hold up mast-like ankles, making the wearer look like they are unable to manage the sneaker’s mass. In Starbucks one Saturday, I saw a woman, who looked like an Oriental Olive Oyl, seated with her legs crossed, the foot in the air was partially relieved of her Chloé Sonnie sneakers, exposing the heel of rather dilapidated socks. Of course, ugly is now inadequate and inappropriate to describe what I saw. What should I call it then? Pretty? In the hope that pretty will one day become so pretty that it is, well, ugly?
If current shoe trends are any indication, ugly alone may not be quite enough.
Decorations: Now, we need to adorn our kicks
Love or reject? Gucci Flashtrek made more pronounced with dazzling embellishment
Ugly by itself, as expected, is not going to be adequate when you need striking sneakers. In the good old days (before 2017?), when we wanted something different for our kicks, we changed the laces. At most, to the laces we added cute snaps and latches. Later, those with the means (and the right service addresses), will have them customised. But now, sneakers come with their own jewellery! From Giuseppe Zanotti’s sneaker with studded straps that look like bracelets to Nike’s collaboration with Comme des Garçons that sees a chain bearing the CDG logotype strapped across the Shox’s upper (spring/summer 2019), shoe jewellery appears to be the next, er, big thing.
Leading the charge this season is Gucci. Their Flashtrek, already a flashy shoe, now comes in colour-blocked versions strapped with jewel-topped harnesses. Based possibly on S&M accessories but designed to project glamour rather than kink, the latest embellishment proves that sneakers are the most opened to any kind of influence, even from the wardrobe of a burlesque performer. Christmas, like before, arrives early this year.
Branding: Now we need to identify sneakers by its label
Fendi Logo Mania sneakers featuring a Fila-logo-like initial letter
The Swoosh or trefoil (or three stripes) must have been considered so discreet these days that brands, even non-designer ones, are stretching logotypes across any visible surface of the sneaker’s (possibly already fancy) upper. Even Nike, not usually a shouter, has emblazoned its four-letter name across the sides of the Air Max Plus TN as if text is better at crying out than symbols. Of course, if Nike can be so shameless, why can’t those with a billion-dollar brand name to boast and bluster? Over-branding is, in fact, so commonplace and such a virtue that Nike sees it fit in calling its latest Air Max Plus with an additional Swoosh by the side ‘Overbranding’. Or, is this self-mocking?
To me, it started with the Gucci Rhyton, both the word and word/logo versions. Those four letters are so alluring that the once mighty double G is now literally halved by its full name’s magnetic appeal. Not to be outdone, Fendi, working with the Instagram-published artist Hey (resounding exclamation?!) Reilly, produced a logotype with the initial ‘F’ similar to Italian sports label Fila’s logo. This spawned a capsule collection, that includes both sneakers and handbags, called Logo Mania. Obvious, just like ugly, is having the best time of its life. And both, I suspect, are having the last laugh.
Photos: Zhao Xiangji, Chin Boh Kay, and AB Tan