Balenciaga Ads: “Wrong Artistic Choice”

Demna Gvasalia finally reacts and apologises

In the past, European luxury houses could not get their advertising right for Asia. Now they can’t do it well for their own audience. For Balenciaga, the misstep struck twice. And the reactions to them have been by no means mild. Fans of Kim Kardashian were quick to point out how she, a Balenciaga fan and model (or the better-sounding “brand ambassador”), had been slow to say something. She eventually did, claiming she had been “re-evaluating” her relationship with the house. Five days after one of the problematic ads ‘Balenciaga Gift Shop’ was launched (16 November) and the disapproval (sometimes rabid) that followed, Balenciaga posted on Instagram, “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused…” In the mean time, country singer Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany Aldean was one of the first celebrities to show her unmistakable disapproval: she shared a post on IG showing her taking out the garbage in clear plastic bags. In them were Balenciaga merchandise. The comment read, “It’s trash day @balenciaga.” No one could be certain if she really discarded those items or if it was just a social-media stunt. The post was quickly deleted. Two days ago, Mrs Aldean shared another photo of herself in a leather jacket with the message: “A little fringe and Dolce never hurt nobody”.

And now Demna Gvasalia, like other designers before him, has apologised. On IG, he wrote under the header “Personal Message”: “I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them.” This came more than two weeks after the backlash unfurled. Still, it is a welcome move as no one in the industry that we spoke to believed that Balenciaga was not aware of “unapproved items” used, as stated in an earlier apology, or that no one in the company knew what was disseminated. And that they should be so aggrieved by the sum fallout that they initiated a USD25-million lawsuit against the companies that produced the advertisements for another campaign (Spring 2023 collection) containing those “unsettling documents”.

After Mr Gvasalia’s post, Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit apologised too, calling what happened in the past weeks “our mistakes” and sharing a list of corporate actions—“with the objective to learn from our mistakes”—that the company has instituted, including reorganising “our image department to ensure full alignment with our corporate guidelines”. Mr Charbit also revealed that Balenciaga “has decided not to pursue litigation”. No reason was given to the rescinding. Provocation is, of course, part of Balenciaga’s present-day appeal. But things could go unnecessarily far. Now, there is even the hashtag #CANCELBALENCIAGA (on TikTok, more than 120 million views have been clocked). Mr Gvasalia also said in his personal message, “As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.” Another day in the world of fashion. And the route to redemption.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Could Gucci Be Weeding The Garden?

It isn’t the end of winter in the northern hemisphere, yet Kering’s star brand is prepping for a new spring, according to emerging reports

Graffiti on the walls of a stairway at the Alessandro Michele-conceived Gucci Garden, part of Gucci Museo in the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia, Florence

Has Alessandro Michele gone from the brightest bloom to unwanted wild grass? A very recent WWD report, citing “well-placed sources”, claims that Alessandro Michele “is exiting the brand”. This news was not only shocking, it was sudden, and came rapidly after Raf Simons announced that he is closing the eponymous label he founded and built. It is not clear if Mr Michele was asked to leave. His departure, if true, could mean a major clean-up at Gucci as the long-haired, bearded designer is presently synonymous with the brand he has helmed for seven years, and has almost singularly made Gucci the molten-hot brand it has become, based on his druthers for bringing disparate elements drawn from the past, especially the ’70s. Mishaps as mashups. But are his hippies in overwrought style not becoming really jelak, the unctuousness of a supersized meal?

It could be that Kering is satiated. They had wanted Mr Michele “to initiate a strong design shift”, according to the WWD’s source. But he was not able appease his bosses. Reuters—also drawing from anonymous sources—informed “that there had been tensions between the designer and Kering’s top management”. Both Kering and Gucci have remained silent, as they adhere to the no-comment approach. The suddenness of this impending exit surprised customers too. One Gucci fan told us that “it shows such a lack of loyalty to Alessandro, who did so much for the brand. And it’s not as if they’re not selling.” But the sales is likely not matching the figure Kering is hoping to hit. Media reports are indicating that Gucci’s performance is not keeping abreast of their peers. Limp sales in China is cause for worry too. And it is inevitable that lacklustre results would be pinned on the products.

Alessandro Michele joined Gucci in 2002 upon the invitation of then designer Tom Ford to oversee the accessories division in Gucci’s London office. In 2011, he was appointed associate creative director to Frida Giannini when she succeeded Tom Ford. Ms Giannini was reportedly dismissed in 2015 in what was described as a “messy” reorg of Gucci. Mr Michele was asked to put together a men’s autumn/winter collection and he did it in less than one week. A day after that show, Gucci announced that he would be the brand’s new creative director. From them on, his rise was—a convenient word for now—unstoppable. He revived Gucci by replacing Mr Ford’s amped-up sexiness and Ms Giannini’s jet-set sleek with geekiness drenched in flamboyance. But the wacky, maximalist, anti-fit aesthetic did reach saturation point—thankfully for Gucci, later than sooner. To be sure, Mr Michele did, in recent years, move gingerly away from his early excesses and goofiness, but his steps, even with the recent twinning of offering, were inadequate for Gucci. The brand owners, it seems, want a palpable shift. The overgrown garden needs to be recovered.

Photo: AB Tan

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Update (24 November 2022, 08:10): No doubt now: Gucci has confirmed that Alessandro Michele “is stepping down”. In a statement sent to the media yesterday, parent company Kering said that Mr Michele “has played a fundamental part in making the brand what it is today.” It did not say why the Roman designer wishes to leave (or if he was asked to). The statement also included a paragraph quoting Mr Michele: “There are times when path parts ways because of the different perspectives each one of us may have. Today an extraordinary journey ends for me.” No replacement was announced.

Closed But Not Over

Raf Simons has announced the shuttering of his eponymous label, but his work is not going to disappear any time soon. He isn’t retiring. There is still his not-small part at Prada

Twenty seven is too young an age to die. But Raf Simons is seeing that the label that bears his name is killed in its 27th year. Better to depart youthful? Mr Simons has just announced that the beloved and influential brand he founded in 1995 showed its last collection—spring/summer 2023 last October in London—was his final. The fashion world is in shock. So many influential artists and artistes have passed on at that age, sufficient in numbers that there is a 27 Club—it came to existence after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. The Club is, of course, not a real one and not necessarily glorious either. Many in the hall of fame died from the excesses of just that—fame. But no one joins it since they would have been dead, but its notional existence shows that many noted creatives departed from this world at that age, leaving behind a veritable legacy. Most are musicians. Apart from Mr Cobain, there is Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and, closer to the present, Amy Winehouse. In art, there is Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work is especially popular among clothing and footwear brands. But in luxury fashion, designers have longer lives. No one that we can remember died at 27, nor did their corresponding label (Jil Sander did [first] leave her brand in its 27th year, but it was not closed, and she did return to it in 2003, only to leave again a year later). Could Raf Simons the label be the first?

In Mr Simons’s announcement on Instagram, he offered no reason for the closure of his brand, which, as can be imagined, led to speculations. Was it the damned economy, with a recession looming? Was the label also the victim of the havoc COVID caused? We’ll add to those popular two. Was he missing an able sidekick after Pieter Mulier joined Alaia? Was he under too much stress to connect with the Metaverse—he hasn’t—to keep his brand relevant? Was Raf Simons too much of a cult label to enjoy the same success of, say, Ader Error? Or Ambush? It is hard to assert with certainty. Mr Simons does have a strong following, especially among those who have tracked his work from the start (including us!). But not going the logo-heavy route and keeping the cut and construction of his clothing generally simple may have not drawn new customers or win converts rooted in the excess of meretricious brands. The fashion marketplace has changed, and continues to, with staggering speed. Not wanting to stay put is not necessarily a bad thing. It certainly was not when he quit Dior and, later, Calvin Klein. But what about the collaborations, such as the still-desirable pairing with Fred Perry? That could remain to provide those who might be seized with nostalgia a chance to buy merchandise that would still have desirable links to the past.

And there is always Prada. After joining the Italian brand in 2020 to co-design the men’s and women’s collections with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons seemed to have found his groove. He is poised to stay. The 109-year-old brand is enjoying renewed interest after a lull period. In the five years leading to 2018, the brand posted declining annual sales. Its performance was so dismal that rumours abound at that time that the company may be forced to sell to LVMH or Kering. But the tide turned, and The Washington Post wrote recently that the brand’s “creeping back into popular consciousness”. Part of it being noticed again is the current trend for things ’90s. Conversely, Raf Simons, also essentially a ’90s brand, chooses to bow out rather than take advantage of the zeitgeist. It is not clear what part in the rejuvenated Prada lies Mr Simons’s input, but each season since his first in September 2020, Prada has been steeped in ideas and innovation. Has Mr Simons proven his worth and is now a serious contender to succeed Ms Prada? Is this possibility so questionless that he is confident enough to wind up his own label? Mr Simons, it is reported, has an open-ended contract with Prada, just as Karl Lagerfeld had with Chanel. Miuccia Prada is 73 (he is 54); she could be pondering retirement. Hard to imagine someone else a worthier successor than Raf Simons.

Photo: Jim Sim

Yeezy Come, Yeezy Go

Balenciaga is fleeing from Kanye West

We thought we have given enough juice to the rambling disturbance known as Kanye West. Frankly, we are quite bored with his BS (ostensible mental condition aside) and his desperate need to be taken seriously in fashion, and the destructive path he has created in order to secure some recognition. And the people he will hurt—even the dead—to do all that. We have enough of how every little thing could disquiet him, how everyone else has done him wrong, how he cannot be blamed, tamed, and managed. Some people say that we cannot deny that he has talent. So, we won’t: His is to overstate his own.

Disastrously for him, his talent has turned the brand Mr West deeply admires away from him. By now, the news is raging like bush fire, but it still merits sharing. Balenciaga, whose designer Mr West deems the greatest and who was instrumental in the early conception of the Yeezy clothing line, has announced that they want nothing to do with the raving rapper. According to WWD, Kering has issued a statement (after the media wondered why the parent company has remained audibly mum?) to announce their position: “Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”. The New York Times reported last month that Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga would go no further than what was completed.

Balenciaga has no longer any relationship nor any plans for future projects related to this artist”

Kering

This dramatic end, or what Mr West might call being cancelled, is perhaps not surprising after it was reported last week that Balenciaga has edited the video of their spring/summer 2023 PFW presentation shared online in which Mr West opened the show, tromping through the muddiest runway Paris ever saw by trimming his part off. The brand has also removed images on their social media showing Mr West in the said show as model, even on the widely-viewed Vogue Runway. And then on the Yeezy Gap website, you no longer find the “Engineered by Balenciaga” selling catchphrase spelled out at any point or corner. Balenciaga is getting serious about the break, even if, at first, surreptitiously.

The brand distancing themselves from Kanye West, however, is no indication that Demna Gvasalia needs to do the same. Mr West and Mr Gvasalia are thought to be “very close”. Their “bromance” is well documented. Last Week, The New York Times, citing “one insider”, reported that the Donda artiste “has been known to refer to himself as Demna’s straight husband”. Both men wanted to be called by their mononym at about the same time. After Mr West opened the Balenciaga show last month, Mr Gvasalia attended the YZY SZN 9 presentation in Paris. The Georgian designer told Vanity Fair last year following his first couture outing for Balenciaga, “There are very few people that I know, especially of that caliber, who really understand what I do.” The relationship between those two, although not entirely clear beyond the professional, is probably harder to untangle.

Update (22 October 2022, 15:00):

Anna Wintour And Vogue’s Turn

Looks like the world’s most powerful editor and her just-as-mighty magazine are taking a stand too: away from Kanye West. According to the New York Post’s Page Six, a Vogue spokesperson told the gossip site “exclusively” that Anna Wintour and her almost-synonymous title do not “intend to work with Kanye West again after his anti-Semitic rants and support for the White Lives Matter cause”. A “source” quoted by Page Six said, “Anna has had enough. She has made it very clear inside Vogue that Kanye is no longer part of the inner circle.” As of now, Vogue online has removed the review of the YZY SZN 9 show. A search on the website turned up the message: “Oops. The page you’re looking for cannot be found”. Writer Luke Leitch’s feature on Mr West seems to have been extirpated too. Ms Wintour has yet to state her position with regards to Mr West’s controversial comments and rants. She was last seen with John Galliano and Demna Gvasalia at the YZY SZN 9 show, but had reportedly left early. It is not known if she was in touch with Mr West after that.

Illustration: Just So, based on Line characters

A Name Change

The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore has a new moniker

The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore or TaFF is no more. In its place is the Singapore Fashion Council (SFC). The name change was announced in July and the new moniker took effect on the 28th of that month. But TaFF has kept relatively low-key about its rename. As of now, the TaFF website remains as it is, although under ‘About Us’, they have started identifying as SFC. Their social media accounts continue to sport the old name. Email communications are still sent out under TaFF. We were told that there would be a media announcement some time this month. Until then, one of the official events that comes under the new name is the upcoming Singapore Stories—the ‘Finale Runaway’ will be staged under the banner of SFC at TaFF‘s favourite museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, on 28 October. Presumably, this would allow SFC to be inaugurated with a major, museum-worthy show.

The renaming of the 26-year-old TaFF came two months after their “retail showcase” Design Orchard was “relaunched”, following a cosmetic makeover of the space in May. Now, with the SFC, it is likely that the former TaFF is looking to refresh its positioning, and show both members and the public that the organisation is keeping abreast with the times. The name change, to some industry observers, is overdue. TaFF was formed in 1996, the year our once-laminated NRICs (‘boomers’ might remember) was no longer usable. In the present, nearly post-pandemic era, when the ‘textile’ component of the industry is wanting, the old moniker was not only unwieldy, it sounded rather bygone. It didn’t help that TaFF was referred to as a federated body, which has a decidedly pre-1990s ring. One designer told us that whenever he referred to TaFF in its full name, he would think of lianbang (联邦, especially in Hokkien), which means federation, in particular, the Federation of Malaya (1948—1963). Some years back, when we attended Bangkok Fashion Week, a Thai designer asked us if the garment industry on our island was so big that it came under the stewardship of a federation. We could not provide a convincing reply.

One designer told us that whenever he referred to TaFF in its full name, he would think of lianbang (联邦, especially in Hokkien), which means federation, in particular, the Federation of Malaya

Our island’s sole “trade association”—as TaFF referred to itself—that supports the industry was, in fact, the result of the 1996 merger of the Society of Designing Arts (SODA, co-founded by Dick Lee in 1975) and the Singapore Textile & Garment Manufacturers’ Association (STGMA, founded in 1981). While both bodies did organise fashion events during the hey days of SG fashion, such as the hugely popular SODA Shows and STGMA’s Singapore Fashion Week (the first, not the 2015 version, staged by Mercury M&C), co-organised with the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board [pre-STB]), their influence appeared to be waning. By the time TaFF was formed, the fashion industry here was quite different from what it was in the ’70s and ’80s: manufacturing was rapidly facing what the media then called a “sunset”. STGMA likely found itself to be an extraneous entity, especially when, according to DOS figures, manufacturing output has declined, so had global export. Between 1980 to 1999, we went from 19th biggest exporter of apparel in the world to the 28th.

TaFF has largely been a relatively quiet industry supporter—at least in the public eye—until in recent years, when it began to manage the Cocoon Space at the Design Centre in 2018, and create the annual design competition Singapore Stories, an event “to promote, support, and develop the local fashion industry”. A year later, it launched The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI) to “groom early stage fashion, beauty brands and related tech startups to refine and validate their products, services or solutions, and commercialisation strategies”. In 2020, after the failure of its predecessor Naiise, TaFF was appointed as the operator of Design Orchard Retail Showcase. Thereafter, they launched their first e-commerce site, the One Orchard Store with merchandise found in the Design Orchard retail space (it is not known why Design Orchard did not get its own e-shop). There was also TaFF Talks, “a series of intimate conversations” with known industry names, such as Guo Pei, Joe Zee, and Andrew Gn. TaFF had been really active.

Singapore Fashion Council, the former TaFF, is housed in Design Orchard. File photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

Now as Singapore Fashion Council, the organisation has not really released its mission statement, although on the current TaFF web page, it does say that SFC will “bring together leaders across multiple sectors to bolster the fashion industry both in Singapore and internationally” (such as facilitating the Singapore Stories 2020 winner Carol Chen’s Paris debut?). In addition, it “actively works to develop the entire industry, positioning Singapore as a key partner in Southeast Asia centred in technology and innovation, sustainability, and Asian craftsmanship”. For all the industry-speak, the name change still aligns with their marketing language heard before and frequently used by its executives. The question that many of those we have spoken to is now asking: Will there be real change?

The Singapore Fashion Council could be mistaken as a part of DesignSingapore Council, the Singapore Economic Board agency—established in 2003—“that promotes design”. While those that DesignSingapore Council’s support is multi-disciplinary, with eyes mainly on architecture and urban design, it does acknowledge fashion, as seen through the prestigious President*s Design Award (P*DA)—past recipients of the Designer of the Year category include Andrew Gn (2007) and Alfie Leong (2013). It is also tempting to see Singapore Fashion Council modelled after the British Fashion Council, the organiser of London Fashion Week. Therein lies the poser for SFC: Would a fashion council do without a fashion week that showcases the talents it purports to support? Or, is a sole retail outlet and an e-shop sufficient? It is unlikely that anyone in the industry here would hold SFC against the BFC or compare Singapore Stories with P*DA. Yet, how would they address the skeptics? One industry veteran said to SOTD, when asked about the new name, “it’s like giving a crumbling house a fresh coat of paint without repairing its foundation.” Perhaps, as in the business of fashion, all it matters is that someone buys a new dress.

Illustration: Just So