Handbags and sneakers are the two most lucrative categories in fashion, valued at upward of $60 billion and $70 billion, respectively. So you can see why Balenciaga would want to mash them up into a single product.
The luxury fashion house has released a line of “SneakerHead” handbags that look like several shoes layered on top of each other, complete with laces, mesh, foam, and scraps of colored fabric. Yes, the bag is absurd on every level, but it’s also entirely in line with creative director Demna Gvasalia’s point of view.
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Gvasalia took on this role in 2015 after leading design teams at Maison Martin Margiela and Louis Vuitton. But he’s also known for cofounding Vetements, a label that deconstructs urban streetwear and favors oversize silhouettes. He’s brought his penchant for strange proportions to Balenciaga, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the shoes he’s designed for the brand.
In 2017, he dropped the Balenciaga Triple S sneaker with its oversize chunky sole reminiscent of something your dad might have worn in the early ’90s. The following year, he collaborated with Crocs to create a line of plastic platform clogs. And last year, he partnered with running brand Vibram to create a high-heeled version of its shoe with toe dividers.
Whenever these shoes hit the runway, many critics assume Gvasalia is just trolling the fashion world with scandalously ugly footwear. But in speaking with WWD in 2019, he insisted that he’s not interested in “any kind of gimmicky play.” Instead, he sees shoes as a way of reimagining traditional silhouettes to create fantastical, otherworldly versions of the products we see in everyday life.
The SneakerHead handbag collection takes Gvasalia’s approach beyond the realm of footwear. Balenciaga is best known for its edgy Classic City satchel, with studs and leather tassels. This new line has some of the same aesthetic features, from the placement of the handle and straps to the laces on the side that mimic the tassels. Priced between $950 and $2,290, they’re what you might expect to pay for a typical calfskin Balenciaga handbag made in an Italian factory, but these bags are made from polyester and manufactured in China, where the brand makes its sneakers.
In many ways, Gvasalia is the ideal person to carry on the legacy of Cristóbal Balenciaga, who launched the label in 1937 and led it for the next three decades. As a designer, Balenciaga also loved playing with proportions. He’s known for his balloon dresses, which obscured the female body in enormous bubbles of fabric, and sack dresses, so-called because they looked like flour sacks with holes for arms. At the time, the looks appeared absurd. There’s a video of a woman walking down a Paris street in 1957 in a sack dress being mocked by passersby. But aspects of Balenciaga’s aesthetics eventually caught on, influencing the geometric dresses of the 1960s.
Gvasalia interprets Balenciaga’s approach for the 21st century, creating shoes and handbags that seem utterly ridiculous on the surface, but have a way of making you rethink everyday objects.