Mutual Hacking: Balenciaga Does Gucci

Pray the two doesn’t become one

It’s a confusing time for fashion and to add to the confusion, brands that should be rivals, even under the same conglomerate, are featuring each other’s accessories. We don’t know why this has to be so other than for both to sell more bags and such. Call us naïve. But if even a storied house like Balenciaga has to feature saleable Gucci merchandise with additional Balenciaga branding, then perhaps we’ve moved from ugly to crass. This Balenciaga’s spring/summer 20211 and the Gucci part really got to us. We can understand Gucci wanting to share Balenciaga’s winning aesthetics, but for the B to want a sliver of the G is, frankly, bewildering. Do customers of both brands really want a Balenciaga Gucci or Gucci Balenciaga? The two-is-better-than-one-thinking? Don’t be so serious, we hear people say. Oh, is this some mischief we know not of? An inside joke between the two houses? Because, if we look closely, Balenciaga has done the Gucci diamond monogram with a double B! Oh, we forgot. It’s called “hacking”. And who can be mistaken when a monogrammed tote is scrawled with “This is not a Gucci bag”?Don’t let the red-and-green stripe fool you.

From the first outfit, a black number that could have been destined for The Conjuring to the final, a red gown that could have been for Cruella, Demna Gvaslia does not let us forget that he is determined to set Balenciaga on his own course. Or that Balenciaga could be an offshoot of the brand he first founded: Vetements. From the oversized—now supersized—jackets to those loose, long-sleeved, printed modest dresses, to the deviant tops and bottoms inspired by retro track wear, these shall continue to be Balenciaga signatures. And, oddly for spring, those bubble coats too, with their gravity-defying collars, worn standing up—like what Mr Gvasalia had done for shirts, framing the face (rather than as some pulled-back screen as there were once before) and with the elegance of a more traditional quilted coat. But are we really seeing Balenciaga that is refreshing? Or one offering clothes that a diehard fan wouldn’t already have lusted after and own? Perhaps such familiarity, such tropes, are to ensure that followers do not forget Mr Gvasalia’s design past and the kinship he still shares with the family-namesake who still helms the house they both created.

Exaggeration is still the name of the game, whether in the silhouettes or the geekiness. And the off-beat is now so standard here that even the over-washed, carpenter-style denim cargos with the surfeit of low-brow utilitarian D-rings as decoration (rather evocative of White Mountaineering and their use of fancier carabiners) and the Crocs, again ‘elevated’—now in the form of heels, pumps, wellies, and platform slides can no longer be seen as demystifying the traditionally-not-attractive. These are destined for TikTok just as the printed dresses will have a place, again, on Instagram, so too those outers with extended, droopy shoulders. But are they really taking us anywhere? Or is entering the world of the young, weaned indiscriminately on luxury streetwear good enough (more Billie Eilish, of course, than Olivia Rodrigo)? Or sustaining on a diet of the likes of the sweatshirt on which Homer and Marge Simpson and brood are depicted wearing last season’s Balenciaga—another suitably LOLzy satire? Sure, our eyes have adjusted, as The Washington Post predicted in 2018, but have they also not seen quite enough?

But everything could be an illusion. Balenciaga broadcasted a show that never actually took place. They admitted to producing a “deep fake”. We were happy to see an IRL show, even on a PC screen, but we were duped! It was all digital trickery, all produced with software magic (listed on the media advisory, which we don’t care to repeat here), and, like the Vetements poser, “Are we becoming wires ourselves?”, is a thesis on the effects of the our online existence on our very selves. The media quoted Mr Gvaslia saying and asking, “What we see online is not what it is. What’s real and what’s fake?” Being a partner-in-crime with Gucci also questions the state of fashion today, as observed by social media watchdogs, such as Diet Prada: What is authentic? Who’s copying who? And does it really matter? The spring/summer 2022 show is called Clones, which has a rather mid-’90s ring to it (remember Dolly the sheep?). But in cloning the show’s model (one person throughout for both the men’s and women’s outfits) and itself (or repeating their classic shapes), is Balenciaga also telling us to put our consumption on a loop, as it’s so easily done on a music streaming service? The more of the same you see, you want in, not out.

Photos: Balenciaga

Vetements Well Ahead

For spring/summer 2022, Vetements is way earlier than the rest. Does it matter?

Fashion seasons are really quite screwed up. Sacai just showed their autumn/winter 2021 collection, and so close to the season’s retail drop, and in the middle of what, for some others, is resort 2022. Vetements, conversely, presented their spring/summer 2022 so many months away from when stores might stock them. What is going on? Is anyone keeping up? Is anyone keeping track? We are not quite at the end of the present spring/summer season yet. Are we, therefore, poised to look at the next? Would we, by the time it is to buy them, remember what was shown nearly six months earlier (assuming that spring/summer now retails as early as late November)? Wouldn’t we, by then, be confused by another ultra-early who-knows-what-season? In a disregard-the-fashion-weeks world, those questions probably do not matter. And Vetements probably don’t give a damn.

Their proposals for next spring/summer were made available to the media through photographs that appeared to be Photoshop (PSD) files with the background removed (which would normally be viewable as a PNG or GIF file to the non-Photoshop user), but the model and clothes in full 2-D glory. The collection purportedly questions the relationship between man and machine, and some how the 1999 film The Matrix was thrown by the brand and its commentators into the mix. The tech talk and how “wires have become the only way for us to stay connected to the outside world and the reality we live in”, as posited in the PR notes, all seem to play up what would otherwise be the usual Vetements design tropes. A Vetements fan wouldn’t care to ask, as Guram Gvasalia did: “Are we becoming wires ourselves?” As long as there are those exaggerated shoulders and, for some, the body-obscurity shapes, the brand can do no wrong. Or, alienate fans.

Vetements has become so good at pushing their unmistakable look that sometimes it seems that they are parodying themselves or—oddly—staying a step behind Balenciaga. Perhaps that should be ahead? It is easy to pin it to the Gvasalia brothers thinking alike, even when they are working separately and independently. But since the strange call-out last September by Vetements that hinted at Balenciaga copying the former (followed by the unambiguous message, “WTF”), we can’t be sure if the aesthetical parallel is coincidental or the leftover from sibling collaboration that was once deep and seriously trend-setting. Even in pandemic-defining times, there is no stepping away from the goofy, the geeky, and grandma goon. Vetements continues to draw out the odd-balls among their adopters, who all seem to prefer the fringes of what is already on the periphery of fashion. Ugly, once associated with the brand, now does not matter, or is seen as such. Take the cheesy and the beat-up and throw in a dash of the sheen of luxury and you can make the unseemly in appearance the LV for the flashy.

These season, there are references to the big screen. And definitely technology-can-screw-us thrillers such as The Matrix, as seen in the fabric with the green alphabets and numerals that mirror the film’s title sequence. And it doesn’t end there. The homage-to-Vogue film of 2006, The Devil Wears Prada is also in the line-up (as in ‘The Devil Doesn’t Wear Prada’ T-shirts), but how that fits the whole us becoming wires spiel isn’t clear. At some point, we thought we saw something akin to what Tilda Swinton wore as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. All the referring to films also points to other brands. If the devil doesn’t wear Prada, perhaps they wears Versace? Or, gold curlicues that would make Donatella Versace beam with pride? Does the devil wear gender-neutral clothes too? Slip tops, for example, are for both women and men. Or, is the devil just the middle-aged uncle who prefers baggy avuncular suits over a cropped top that shows off a middle-aged paunch? Whatever the devil wears, the devil’s ally Vetements is still fashion’s diabolical adversary.

Photos: Vetements