Little screams “spring” about Balenciaga’s Resort 2024 collection, an assortment of dark, enveloping pieces the French label describes as “an observation of metropolitan motion.” (Most looks simply evoke Kim Kardashian’s blacked-out Met Gala dress, but dialed down a few notches.) In the rainy Mau Morgó–directed campaign film, released this week, models adorned in puffer opera trenches, towel-wrap skirts, and leather stiletto boots scuttle past the facade of Balenciaga’s Parisian headquarters retrieving pennies off the sidewalk and flagging down taxis—pictures of quotidian city life.
Never one to shy away from social commentary, perhaps Demna is repositioning his embattled label as striving for normalcy following months of scandal. The former harbinger of haute has endured a fraught year: close entanglements with Ye came under scrutiny following his public antisemitism and racism, and viewers claimed a disastrous campaign promoted pedophilia. Despite public apologies and promises of self-recrimination, the aftermath was swift and devastating. TikToks of people destroying Balenciaga products went viral, Kardashian condemned the label’s choices, and sales plummeted. Fashion labels often trifle with offensive gestures, but Balenciaga’s opprobrium suddenly seemed dire.
Months have passed, though, and both the social media mob and the fashion machine seem to have moved on. Anna Wintour extended Demna an olive branch at this year’s Met Gala, where he hosted a table for emerging designers who otherwise couldn’t afford tickets. Perhaps that sent signals to parent company Kering, which doubled down on its commitment to the label by dressing its chief executive, François-Henri Pinault, in a Balenciaga tuxedo on the Cannes red carpet. Ditto for Michelle Yeoh, Isabelle Huppert, and Alton Mason, who wore Balenciaga without a hitch. The notoriously outspoken Diet Prada didn’t even weigh in.
So is all forgiven? “We’ve seen in the past that media mishaps have an impact for two to three quarters and then normalize,” Luca Solca, a luxury goods market analyst, told the New York Times, expecting Balenciaga to bounce back by late 2023. Recall that fashion enthusiasts have tried to cancel the irascible duo behind Dolce & Gabbana for nearly a decade with little success. Wintour was instrumental in getting John Galliano back on his feet after a drunken antisemitic rant got him sacked from the top job at Dior. Deep-pocketed clients, fashion editors, and frenzied stylists don’t always share progressive worldviews and are often suckers for well-tailored clothes, even in spite of a label’s perceived outlaw status.
Therein lies the Sisyphean challenge facing Demna, whose avant-garde leanings have helped cultivate a very online consumer base that’s hyper-perceptive to any trace of social injustice: Recreate the spark that propelled Balenciaga to fashion’s highest echelons without stepping on any toes.
According to critic Vanessa Friedman, however, that “requires the alchemical combination of products and desire [he] once generated by upending all expectations and challenging stale ideas of ‘beauty’ and ‘luxury,’” she writes. “While the cruise collection had some of that embedded, such pieces no longer seem revolutionary. The magic that was once there, that sense of gleeful, liberating, absurdist challenge? That still hasn’t come back.”