The corporate boardroom-cum-catwalk was awash with branding at Balenciaga's A/W17 menswear show, from Kering hoodies to logo manicures. Osman Ahmed investigates
What do Donald Trump and Demna Gvasalia have in common? Well, they’ve both had a meteoric rise to power in a relatively short time, armed with sensibilities that attempt to address “reality” – albeit very different ideas of it. Neither of them are unfamiliar with controversy, and more importantly both are embarking on extreme executive positions that place them at the very top of their respective fields. What’s more, both men are branding geniuses – the demand for a Vetements ‘Securité’ mac almost outstripped the demand for ‘Make America Great Again’ caps. That may be where the similarities end, but it seemed the parallel was splaying on Gvasalia’s mind as he designed his menswear sequel for Balenciaga. Exaggerated tailoring, square overcoats, striped shirts and ties – ties! – were all enlarged, shrunken or slouched. It was a contemporary riff on the antithesis of what we consider to be fashionable, young men – especially those who have become associated with Vetements.
“My work is always about deconstructing the reality around us and I think it’s just honest – that’s what’s happening around us,” said Gvasalia after the show. “Also, it coincided with us moving to a new place – our offices at Balenciaga – so we are now neighbours with Kering. We actually share the same parking lot and the same courtyard, so we kind of co-exist with this corporate institution. That’s something that we wanted to soften and make it warmer and more cosy. It’s the guy who goes to his office on Sunday – he’s hardworking.” Gvasalia stressed that some of the men were interns – “but they were still in this corporate world”. What about him, Balenciaga’s own leading man? “I’m still in the intern category,” he smiled.
As ever, the designer employed a severe sense of irony, which was achieved through heavy branding. Hoodies, puffer jackets and sculptural bombers were heavily branded with a red-white-and-blue interpretation of Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo. Sanders is perhaps the antithesis of Mr Three-Piece-Suit, renowned for his opposition to corporate capitalism. The nod to him felt at odds with the coats and white hoodies that brazenly featured large Kering logos – a bold acknowledgment that the brand is owned by a conglomerate, a fact that most brands try to conceal. Leather carrier bags, with the original Balenciaga logo, added a further layer of irony as a somewhat brazen affirmation that there are plenty of people, albeit not actual corporate executives, who will certainly be buying into it. The Balenciaga-branded stomper boots and trainers made sure that such confidence was justified.
Gvasalia’s subversive branding also informed a collaboration with the New York-based nail artist Mei Kawajiri. Kitsch nail art was seen on the hands of several models, a tongue-in-cheek detail that elaborated on the bare chests, clunky trainers and low-slung trousers that twisted the motifs of a traditional corporate wardrobe. “My team and I hand-painted the Balenciaga and the Kering logos on the left thumbnail of approximately 18 of the 39 models that walked,” explained Kawajiri, who painted the nails using a Japanese Presto brush. The result was an Instagram-worthy moment that nodded to the trendy nail art movement loved by the cool New York City ghetto girls who idolise Lil Kim – the kind who paint their nails with Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci logos. It was a cheeky antidote to the tucked-in inspiration, and a subversion of the archetypal heterosexual white male – especially one who has cleverly branded his way to political success.