tHey, they’re stained, crushed, and yellowed, but Balenciaga’s line of “worn” sneakers, which launched in collaboration with Adidas this month, are sold out. This is despite the staggering price of nearly £700.
The brand-new shoes, which one reviewer described as “looking like they were flattened by a 20-ton steamroller”, are no longer available on Balenciaga’s website, and are priced at a specialist sneaker auction site at £2,500.
They may look like they’ve seen better days, but the trainers—a pair of ruined Stan Smith shoes from Adidas—are actually made from luxurious lambskin. If they do hit stores, they will be for sale on Britain’s most exclusive shopping streets. This is the order that will be available on the Adidas website on December 15th with the raffle system in place.
Balenciaga isn’t the only brand that has created tired-out sneakers. Gucci created a pair of dirty trainers in 2019, which are on sale on their website for £715. Golden Goose has long made these kinds of sneakers: a design called the Superstar Taped Sneaker in 2018 was considered particularly offensive. “I think the height of capitalism is selling premium shoes to those who can’t afford new ones for $530,” one Twitter user wrote. Four years later, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, that feeling may have grown.
These can be seen as the impact of the second-hand market, which is estimated to be worth $35 billion (£28 billion) in 2021, up from $11 billion a decade ago. Perhaps the difference here is that Balenciaga has used Stan Smiths—a relatively affordable and accessible design. They “ruined” it and made it a luxury, all at the same time.
Sloppy clothes are by no means new. Indeed, a miserable appearance often coincides with periods of stagnation. Watch the ripped and battered punk style of the ’70s, or the downbeat grunge of the ’90s. Helmut Lang pioneered the dystopian look in this decade. Sent to the catwalk in 1998, “painter” jeans were splattered with emulsion.
The worn-in sneaker is the latest product in Balenciaga’s ascent, says Luca Solca, senior research analyst for global luxury goods at Bernstein. “It’s typical that, every now and then, you find a ‘hero producer,’” he says, “but building a successful long-running series like Balenciaga did is fairly rare.”
Solca believes that Balenciaga still stands apart from other brands. “One of the characteristics of Balenciaga’s reinvention – from what I understand – is taking the lead in the field of irony,” he says. “The Ikea-like shopping bag is just one example.” In 2017, the brand released a £1,705 bag that looks similar to Ikea’s 75p Frakta. The irony often comes from turning something so tacky into a very luxurious item. These products also work well for memes on social media.
Balenciaga, with designer Demna (who goes by his first name only) at the helm, is one of fashion’s biggest success stories of the past few years. The brand grew 44% between 2020 and 2021, and parent company Kering reported in October that sales were “especially booming across all product categories.” StockX, the reselling platform, reports that there have been more than 50,000 searches for the brand this year.
Notably, the era of luxury consumers is getting younger. A Bain & Company report released this month found that Gen Z and millennial demographics lead luxury in 2022, a sector projected to grow 21% in 2022. These demographics are likely to appreciate Balenciaga’s worthwhile paradox.
The brand made headlines earlier this year with its Paris sneakers, which were so ruined they were almost impossible to wear. The worn-in shoe comes after the September fashion show, where models walked a mud-covered runway, some with a tattered teddy bear dressed as an S&M “handbag.” The brand had to apologize this week for ads showing children carrying teddy bear handbags, and a photo of a handbag on a desk covered in legal documents detailing a case of child pornography.
Andrew Groves, professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster, certainly sees items like worn-out Balenciaga sneakers as problematic. “[They] It symbolizes what fashion historian Emma McClendon calls “a vacation in poverty,” he says. After this week’s advertising scandal, he adds, “I think the tide has turned firmly against Balenciaga’s wretched vision of fashion.”