Balenciaga is no stranger to scandal: The high-fashion label has come under fire multiple times for tone-deaf designs and cultural appropriation, with each incident further highlighting the privilege sustained by the brand and its consumers. Balenciaga’s latest offering, dubbed the Paris sneaker, only adds fuel to the fire with an overly distressed look — and emphasized price tag. The $1,850 sneaker comes purposefully destroyed, welcoming holes, rips, scuff marks, and other (faux) signs of wear right out of the box.
With a silhouette similar to the classic Converse Chuck Taylor, the Balenciaga kicks arrive in black, white, and red shades. Each pair features mild signs of wear, but limited-edition “full destruction” versions of the sneakers arrive with even more extreme distressing including rips and a midsole covered in faux scuffs. The artist Leopold Duchemin put the Paris through the ultimate ringer as part of the campaign for the sneakers, although those downright gnarly shoes are not going up for sale.
#Poorcore — Another ridiculously-priced Balenciaga product isn’t news, but it’s important to ask who’ll be wearing the Paris sneaker — and why. Like the brand’s other offerings, the shoes are a display of wealth, proof that their owner can afford to indulge in even the least practical items. But the Paris sneaker is different, making clear that its well-worn appearance is a fashion choice and nothing more. For Balenciaga’s privileged audience, destroyed shoes are an aesthetic, not a sign of neglect.
Distressed shoes have gradually risen in popularity, not just at luxury labels but also at mainstream brands like New Balance and Nike. As vintage shopping becomes more attractive to shoppers, they’re seeking sneakers to match their look — although Balenciaga’s version is a step in the wrong direction.
The Paris sneaker goes beyond aged midsoles and faded color palettes, instead going for “full destruction.” Its inspiration seems like it comes from someone who has no say in the clothes they wear — or own, for that matter — making the shoe a “fashionable” adaptation of difficult circumstances. Poverty isn’t an aesthetic, nor is it something to take style inspiration from. Glamorizing demolished shoes to fit a fashionable agenda reeks of privilege and ignorance.
Still, controversial items spark conversation, and creative director Demna Gvasalia knows it. Only 100 pairs of the extremely worn Paris sneakers are being offered on the Balenciaga website, with each priced at a cool $1,850. Less distressed (and less offensive) offerings of the shoe are available for $625, or $495 if you want a mule version. Add the extra wear yourself.
Update: This article previously didn’t make clear that the sneakers seen in the campaign photo were not up for sale. We have updated it to make the difference between the campaign and the Paris version available to the public more clear.