High fashion’s class appropriation is not art

The elite’s fascination with the ordinary is just willful ignorance

Balenciaga’s newest shoe collection is trash slapped with their logo.
Amna Rafiq

Balenciaga recently released a collection of overtly distressed sneakers priced over $700.

Unfortunately, this tactless release is another entry in an ongoing story. The rapid growth of the fashion world and pervasive capitalist undertaking of our lives has resulted in designers selling sneakers worse than the ones you find at the thrift store at over a hundred times the price.

This is a direct culmination of the rich’s detachment to everyday society, with a sprinkle of fascination for how the working class and impoverished people live. In an era when the wealth gap has surmounted that of the Gilded Age, it’s amusing to see brands like Prada creating designs that are basically hospital scrubs and Gucci selling purposefully worn-out shoes.

Whether it be through ‘chic’ workwear or muddy, ripped-up sneakers, the rich’s constant reaching for authenticity is palpable. While designers often look to the streets for inspiration, commodifying class differences should not be overlooked or condoned.

In 2016, Vetements released a yellow t-shirt with a DHL logo for over $200. Seeing it sported down runways was comical, given how hundreds of thousands of workers across the world have been wearing it for years. Yet, with a ‘redesign’ by Balenciaga Creative Director Demna Gvasalia, it’s given a luxury price tag that those it supposedly represents cannot afford. 

Balenciaga and Gvasalia are at the forefront of these far-reaching ‘fashion statements’ that are little more than money-grabs for designs genuinely worse than second-hand finds. Connoisseurs of sustainable fashion can’t help but stifle a laugh at these marketing tricks urging people to spend hundreds of dollars to look like they don’t have money. 

Fashion is an ecologically detrimental industry. The cycle of ever-changing trends paralyzes consumers trying to keep up on a reasonable budget. Microtrends and micro-influencers sustain the fabric of neoliberal values, and the environment simply cannot keep up.

Our resources and scientists are begging for help, yet willfully ignorant high fashion brands are using energy, material, and time to create goods not worth their price tag. This plague of materialism combined with a valuing of profit over the greater good is exacerbating the ongoing climate crisis we’re struggling to reverse.

If luxury brands care about those who wear their clothes, they’ll stop making a farce out of those who aren’t privileged enough to wear them.

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