Demna has done it again. Where does he have? The Balenciaga FW20 collection started filtering online, with one item in particular – a soccer jersey – lending itself to much outrage on Twitter. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either more of Gvasalia’s genius or, well, all a little offbeat.
As is customary with the Georgian, the article apparently draws inspiration from an entirely random original source: the Manchester United Nike 2002 goalkeeper jersey. Design-wise, it’s, to put it mildly, pretty basic – similar to something you’d buy on the cheap at a budget sports store. The difference lies in its price tag of $ 780, which begs the question of who is really laughing? Is this a tasteless class appropriation or yet another genius middle finger in the luxury world?
Gvasalia’s adaptation of working class references and everyday objects to fuck with the rich is nothing new and a practice that the designer traces back to French artist Marcel Duchamp. When Balenciaga released her Zen sneaker earlier this year, she felt brilliantly mean because of the niche factor (showing up to high school in the UK wearing Lonsdale Benn or Slazenger Warrior sneakers – the clear benchmark – in the middle 2000s was like signing your own death warrant). A soccer jersey feels more on the nose, having been wrung out in the haute couture wringer by people like Off-White ™, Martine Rose, and yes, Balenciaga in the past. But it’s the obvious kitschism of Gvasalia’s latest creation that sets her apart – it looks pretty ghastly, and maybe that’s the point.
Football is the domain of ordinary people, and Gvasalia adapting and transforming her uniform to sell the bourgeoisie with more money than sartorial savvy could be interpreted as the joke being on them. Ralph Lauren sold the dream of playing polo with high society; Balenciaga sells fake soccer balls that you find in a garage sale. As noted by Pierre Alexandre M’Pelé, editor and fashion critic of LOVE, “when luxury houses tackle physical recreation, they generally opt for the type of activities historically associated and practiced by the class superior. […] Luxury homes aim to woo wealthy audiences with raised and spectacular items that one couldn’t easily afford. With his soccer jersey, Gvasalia deconstructs what luxury means. “
Of course, that’s just one way of looking at it. Others will subscribe to a more straightforward view that certain things – especially such a sacrosanct pursuit as football – should be banned and that there is something quite rude about cosplaying the rich with clothes on. generally worn by the working class. Considering the “streetwear-ification” of the soccer jerseys – not to mention the logo on the front and center which is pure Instagram catnip – my cynical side also bristles as this piece will fly away without any. rail doubt. Considering this factor, I always remember a brilliant paragraph that appeared on the Business of Fashion in a 2017 Aesthetics Profile from Gvasalia and Vetements:
[Demna Gvasalia’s] Vetements isn’t really a Robin Hood character, as he doesn’t give to anyone. It would require him to take a stand on things, one way or another, and he refuses to do so. It is fairer to say that Vetements laughs at the rich and the poor alike. Its costly reappropriations say nothing concrete about the relationship between wealthy fashionistas and the working class, let alone do anything to change it. What they do is simply present a reversal of the usual look of this relationship and enjoy the surprise the new look brings – from whoever, poor or rich, is willing to pay for it. What matters for Vetements, as for other supporters of the new aesthetic, is the switch itself. On that assessment, one could say that the new aesthetic is empty, but briefly pleasing for its sheer sass.
So there you go, maybe we shouldn’t think too hard and take the jersey for what it is: a frivolous piece of exorbitantly priced fun, made to fuck with people. Has Demna done it again? The fact that we’re talking and Balenciaga is back in the headlines would suggest he did. It’s his world, and he’s having fun watching us try to untangle it.