Balenciaga debuted its resort 2023 show to the tune of the opening bells at the New York Stock Exchange. Stock ticker screens served as a backdrop for the presentation, flickering behind every single model who walked the makeshift runway between desks in the pit—all wearing gimp masks accessorized with reading glasses, hoop earrings, neon pigtails, while “New York, New York” played in the background.
It was just a few months ago that the label’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, presented a snow globe-like runway show in Paris as a tribute to Ukraine, so expectations were high for the brand’s first New York show since 2003. And while the backdrop of the New York Stock Exchange itself may have been less emotionally moving than an epic snow storm inside a stadium, there was power in what the clothing itself represented. Here was a collection shrouded in almost all-black silhouettes of oversized blazers, lengthy leathers, extended sleeves, and baggy jeans. A play on identity—and the styles associated with mundane corporate culture—was very clearly at work. But it also spoke volumes about money, power, and Americanness.
Oversized polka dot dresses swanned over the rigid full-body gimp suits. Pussybow blouses peeked out of the latex get-ups. Then there were fluid trench coats, which blossomed as they moved. Each model followed the other with laser precision, and without the slightest hint toward their identity—with the exception of faux neon hair in lemon, tangerine, and grass green setting them apart.
Revealed one after the other were the redefined uniforms of the finance bro, the commuter, the everyday New Yorker, the party-goer, the secretary; reflected and then refracted through the eye of Balenciaga. Wall Street merged with streetwear to create a mind-bending mix of models carrying paper coffee cups and briefcases.
Balenciaga has basically invented the concept of the meme-ification of fashion in recent seasons, with its Hacker Project (done in collaboration with Gucci) inspired by the aesthetic of high fashion knock-offs, along with the recent launch of a pair of sneakers the brand describes as “fully destroyed” that go for $1,850. Everyday uniforms for corporate Americans paired with BDSM latex and raver hair spoke to the continuation of that meme-ification—and the front row fully leaned into it. Alexis Stone, the drag queen performer known to transform their identity, cosplayed as Dolly Parton. Kanye West was also there, wearing the comically large, Roblox-like combat boots seen in the show. The audience itself felt like both a spectacle and a fashion circus performance against the conservative backdrop of the NYSE.
Courtesy of Balenciaga.
A good portion of the collection was made up of a new Balenciaga and Adidas collaboration, which felt in tune with the everyday uniform of the casual New Yorker, if not slightly repetitive following Gucci and Prada’s recent Adidas collabs. Logo mash-up t-shirts, three stripes and triple leaf pants and oversized robe coats were styled in primary hues with matching gimp masks to add a bit of endearing, extreme edge, and were available to shop immediately following the show, with prices ranging from $210-$5,500.
Will we all be wearing latex and gimp masks to the office a year from now? In 2021, Kim Kardashian wore a full Balenciaga look, gimp suit included, to the Met Gala. Decades earlier, iconic club kids like Leigh Bowery made the look part of the weirdly alluring underground scene. The repetitive nature of this singular look dominating the show beefed up the idea of showing proof of a concept while still saying little about how it has evolved throughout the ages. But in a world where personal style feels more expressive and individual than ever before, the idea of the uniform and how it can be interpreted through elements of the everyday prevails—perhaps even more than it ever has before.
Also: A Kardashian wearing a gimp suit is still instantly recognizable. So are the baggy jeans, the big awkward shoes, the meme-ified concepts, and the everyday t-shirts and sneakers Balenciaga makes. Demna seems to be making a similar statement about the near-iconic Balenciaga DNA that’s emerged under his direction.