With impeccable timing amidst tumbling stock markets, crypto crashes and the hefty rise of inflation, Balenciaga‘s first show outside of Paris played out at the epicentre of finance: the New York Stock Exchange. Ten years ago Occupy Wall Street politicised an entire generation; this time the occupation merely sought to provoke it.
Teaser images from the 1980s – delivered like a local news broadcast on Balenciaga.com – set the tone. They showed nostalgic footage of taxis driving through Times Square and the bankruptcy of the Tavern On The Green, the OG banker hangout. Invitations to the show came in crumpled paper bags filled with fake $100 bills disclosing the Wall Street address.
At the show, rather than traders standing elbow to elbow on the jostling floors, this time it was Ye, Megan Thee Stallion, Chloë Sevigny, Frank Ocean, Pharrell Williams, and New York Mayor Eric Adams perched on trading stools among the sea of screens rotating stock prices and global news headlines.
With past collections, creative director Demna Gvasalia has challenged celebrity culture and climate change. This time it was the cult of money he had in his sights, showcased in the symbolic church of self-made wealth and greed. Certainly, it was one of the more unusual events in Wall Street’s 230-year history.
A melancholy rendition of New York, New York rang out as the models glided across the trading floor wearing statement pieces lampooning the fetishisation of finance, its allure, and corruption. They wore faceless black Latex masks on top, body-hugging sheath dresses and power suits below, or leather shirts and ‘Working Girl’ blouses recalling the days of Gordon Gekko.
Later, as BFRND’s Hedge Fund Trance blared, the screen displays became garbled. News readers and stock prices went haywire as guests bounced in their seats to the music. For the finale, the spectacle crescendoed and the screens went blank white, depicting the eerie reality of the late-capitalism meltdown.
The so-called Garde-Robe line, somewhere between RTW and couture, went on sale immediately, at 12.30 pm EST. Despite the message inherent in the spectacle, prices started at $210 for a pair of socks, rising to $5,500 for a puffer coat – 80’s excess indeed. As nightlife icon Amanda Lepore observed after the show, ‘Money is the biggest fetish.’