It took a few minutes for the Paris Fashion Week audience to realize they had seen Kanye West in his first-ever runway modeling.
Wearing a black hoodie pulled over a Balenciaga baseball cap, there was something familiar about the man in an oversized flak jacket and baggy leather jeans — the beard, the swaying swagger — and after some zooming into their cellphone videos, the penny dropped: One of the most influential musicians of his generation had just added runway modeling to his eclectic resume, which includes 21 Grammys, fashion collections and collaborations from Paris to New York, a long-running guest spot on the Kardashian celebrity circuit, and a nearly-miss on a White House run.
Balenciaga has turned itself into the world’s most compelling luxury brand by turning the meaningless and most ridiculous elements of fashion week on its head to say something interesting.
Putting a celebrity on the catwalk to publicize a show is an old trick; Putting one of the world’s most famous men on his show incognito is, according to Balenciaga creative director Demna – who, like Ye, as West prefers to be called today, goes by just one name – sends a message that people should value individualism and not grovel over celebrity .
In a statement accompanying the show, he said, “Individualism in fashion is relegated to pseudo-trends dictated by a contribution in stories by a celebrity of the moment… Fashion should, at best, need no story to be sold to anyone.” … let’s let everyone be anyone.”
If you think fashion is all about glamor and escapism, you’ve got some catching up to do at Balenciaga. Demna, who has called polish and perfection “pretty old school,” rocked Paris Fashion Week with a dark, dystopian aesthetic.
The invitation to the show was a battered wallet bulging with cards, coins and receipts as if they had been brought back from a lost-and-found office, complete with ID card – in the name of a longtime Balenciaga employee – and a faded snap of a hidden cat behind the coin compartment. The catwalk was a muddy runway that spattered black dirt onto the clothes on the catwalk and the handbags in the front row, accompanied by a bang of techno. This was not a demanding lifestyle moment.
This is more fashion for the age of BeReal than Instagram. Just as a Chanel runway is adorned with pearls and camellias, the Balenciaga runway is strewn with real-life treasures: AirPods in the ears, a house key swinging on a ponytail, bags modeled after packets of chips that to be held in one hand. (There were even what appeared to be babies strapped in slings to some of the models, although they turned out to be dolls.)
Still, Balenciaga is definitely still in fashion. The incursion of oversized bomber jackets is a streetwear update of the egg and cocoons that Cristóbal Balenciaga, the house’s founder, used 70 years ago to radicalize Parisian fashion in his own era. The emphasis on black is not just a nod to dystopia, but the power of black to emphasize the exaggerated silhouettes that have been a trademark of Balenciaga past and present.
Ye may have another surprise in store for Paris Fashion Week, with rumors of a catwalk show for his own brand Yeezy, but no announcement has been made.