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Has Balenciaga become a social experiment?

Balenciaga is a luxury fashion house founded over a hundred years ago by Cristobal Balenciaga. Now associated with chunky colourful shoes, the brand started off with never-before-seen pieces for their female clientele. Balenciaga revolutionised the woman’s silhouette in the 1950s with bold shapes (such as the Balloon dress) and iconic designs (like the baby-doll dress). The Spanish fashion designer also made a mark in the history of red-carpet fashion with his Empire evening wear collection that is still worn to this day. 

Nowadays, Balenciaga is still serving interesting looks in their couture line, but their ready-to-wear collection has been in need of help for years. What is wrong with it? We’d call it ‘putting expensive labels on everyday products’. It seems like Balenciaga is testing how far they can go with their designs and people will still be willing to pay for it. Has Balenciaga become a social experiment in the capitalistic world of label-lovers? 

Ikea bag identical to Balenciaga
Photo: Letycja Oczkowicz @ The Mancunion

Four years ago, Balenciaga released a blue tote bag that looks almost identical to the IKEA shopper. Both bags are of the same shape, size, colour, and handles (surprisingly Balenciaga didn’t include the yellow logos). The visible difference lies in material and price – IKEA’s shopper is made from recyclable plastic and it’s worth 40p, whilst Balenciaga’s equivalent is made from leather and costs £1,365.

The obvious inspiration couldn’t go unnoticed by the Swedish furniture company, which commented on the unoriginal Balenciaga design. IKEA humorously acknowledged the similarities between the two bags by releasing an advert about the advantages of the blue 40p shopper. Starting with: ‘Shake it: if it rustles, it’s the real deal. IKEA also makes fun of an expensive fake by listing the tips that will help in identifying the classic tote. It’s difficult to explain why a luxurious brand would copy a design of a well-known blue shopper. How much has the company earned on people who would rather choose to represent a different logo for a much higher price? 

Recently Balenciaga jumped on the comeback of the Y2K aesthetic. The trend includes rainbow bead jewellery gaining back its glory. Balenciaga again had to put their logo on something that everyone already owns. But how can you make a childhood DIY- bracelet a luxurious product? Easy, just spell B A L E N C I A G A out in little brass letters, and add a few flower charms. Then sell that for over £300. Is the bracelet made from any expensive materials? No. Can you make it yourself? Yes, probably in just 5 minutes during your lunch break. 

Balenciaga bracelet
Photo: Letycja Oczkowicz @ The Mancunion

In the Balenciaga Autumn/Winter 2021 collection, the brand was again influenced by the everyday world. This time, the Spanish brand decided to create its own version of the workwear jacket. For decades, it has been exclusive to construction workers only, but now for just £2,890, everyone can have an almost identical one. The designer high-vis jacket is mostly neon yellow with a navy-blue element at the bottom. In the product description on the Balenciaga website, it says that the item is ‘reversible’, ‘oversized’, and of ‘cocoon shape’. As appealing as it sounds, it’s certainly not worth the £3,000 written on Balenciaga’s label. Their designs have been confusing consumers for years now. What else is the Spanish brand going to recreate in the future?

Tags: Balenciaga, bead necklace, capitalism, IKEA, rebranding, social experiement

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