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High fashion or dubious taste? Balenciaga's destroyed sneaker causes controversy

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

May 12, 2022

Fashion |Opinion

Image: Balenciaga Paris Sneaker, via Balenciaga website homepage

It is not often a sneaker can cause equal parts awe and antipathy, but Balenciaga’s latest limited edition Paris Sneaker release, made of destroyed cotton and rubber, has done just that.

The shoe in question, which loosely resembles a Converse All Star, retails for 1,290 pounds (1,850 dollars, 1,450 euros) and is as intentionally distressed and worn-out as its name suggests. To most eyes outside of the luxury sphere, these trainers look as if they ended their lifespan long ago.

In the product details section on the Balenciaga website the description states the shoe has rippings all over the fabric, a Balenciaga graffiti logo in color contrast on the sole, an embossed size at the back, a vulcanized sole and it is manufactured in China.

The Paris-based luxury house offers many variations of the sneaker: high-cut, low and mule versions, in black, white and red, but only 100 pairs of its ‘full destroyed’ edition.

Luxury items made to 'look poor'

The shoe was quickly called out by fashion watchdog Diet Prada on Instagram, where comments such as “I guess it’s only okay to look poor but not actually be poor. Such a joke,” said one user. Another stated “Smells like rich people romanticising the poor and homelessness.” Commenting on sustainability, another wrote: “I hope they practiced waste-led design and fished these sneakers straight from the landfills because that would be genius.”

And that is precisely where the antipathy comes in. To be made to look like an item that came from landfill with fabric destroyed to the point of ruination, making it seem as if it barely survived the arduous journey of its wearer and to top that with a large graffiti logo.

"The shoe is made to look as if it barely survived the arduous journey of its wearer".

Balenciaga said its Paris sneaker is meant to be worn a lifetime, exaggerating the worn-in aspect in its marketing campaign, yet the customer who will pay nearly 1,300 pounds for a sneaker likely has multiple others, if not an entire wardrobe full of shoes. They certainly are not the market segment to wear a trend to the point of oblivion. Would they be as marketable if there was no branding?

No pride in wearing out one’s boots

The world’s refugee crisis has been exasperated by the Ukraine invasion, but many who flee do so with taking minimal belongings, often just one pair of shoes. At the end of their journey there is no pride in wearing out one’s boots, only weariness and exasperation.

Last year Balenciaga was accused of cultural appropriation over a pair of sweatpants which retailed over 900 pounds. A leather bag that resembled a bin liner was part of its latest collection shown on the Paris runway last season.

Taking the lowest denominator of everyday items and repackaging them for luxury purposes has long been a tactic employed by fashion houses to drive profits and marketing eyeballs. It is also supremely tacky.