The images, shot by photographer Leopold Duchemin for the brand, of severely tattered, distressed shoes have gone viral following Monday’s launch of the couture brand’s new Paris sneaker, with outrage at the appearance of the high tops swirling online.
But the photos of the destroyed sneakers circulating on social media don’t exactly tell the whole story. While they have courted the most controversy, the images are actually of exaggerated, limited edition versions of the sneakers that Balenciaga is selling.
According to the fashion house, only 100 pairs of “extra destroyed” sneakers will be available to buy for $1,850. Meanwhile, the non-limited edition, and less roughed up versions, are being sold on the Balenciaga website for $495 and $625, depending on the specific style.
In a press release, the Paris-based brand said that the campaign photos show the shoes “extremely worn, marked up, and dirtied.”
It said the still-life portraits “suggest that Paris Sneaker are meant to be worn for a lifetime” — a point that feels especially relevant amid growing conversations around the fast fashion industry and the impact of overconsumption on the planet.
An example of the less roughed up version of the sneaker, available for pre-order for $625 on the Balenciaga website.
Demna is known for his disruptive flair and the Paris sneaker launch isn’t the first time his designs have been met with bemused reactions.
In 2017, Balenciaga brought out a bag that cost $2,145 which was ridiculed for its similarities to Ikea’s “Frakta” bag. At the time, the original Ikea bag could be purchased for 99 cents.
Fashion designer called out for cultural appropriation over its $1,190 pants
Balenciaga describes the sneaker as a “retooled classic design,” which is finished with “distressed canvas and rough edges, affecting a pre-worn look.”
Online reactions to the Paris sneaker have been mixed.
Tora Northman, a news editor for the publication Highsnobiety, said the brand had “taken it to the next level,” adding Balenciaga is “always creating controversial items that spark conversation.”
But not everyone thinks the sneakers are worth mocking.
GQ France head of editorial content Pam Boy said in a comment on Instagram that the message of the product is clear: “Buy and keep forever. Demna (Balenciaga’s creative director) will make people who can afford luxury items purchase ‘pre-worn’ looking sneakers for 1450€. He is completely turning the essence of luxury upside down.”
The jury appears to be out on whether this latest marketing move is worthy of high praise or ridicule. Either way, Demna and Balenciaga have once again got people talking, no doubt drawing many to a brand that seems increasingly comfortable with controversy.
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