Paris fashion was reeling Sunday from Balenciaga’s latest outrage/stroke of genius — platform Crocs.
The luxury brand, which hit the headlines in April with its $2,000 (1,700 euro) blue leather “Ikea-style” bags, has raised eyebrows again by sending out five pairs of the comfortable, indestructible but undeniably ugly sandals in its spring/summer collection.
“I’m sorry am I hallucinating or did I just see platform Crocs from Balenciaga?” tweeted Tyler McCall of the Fashionista website.
Another Fashionista critic, Alyssa Vingan Klein, added, “There are platform Crocs at Balenciaga. This is not a drill…”
Balenciaga’s iconoclastic designer Demna Gvasalia is known for seeing the beauty in the banal, with some critics accusing him of “poverty chic” — remaking the clothes of the poor for the rich.
But he has a formidable track record of making clothes — and particularly shoes — that taste forgot hugely hot.
His thigh-high Spandex boots have become a style sensation, worn and adored by celebrities and fashion mavens alike.
The wunderkind has, however, a job on his hands with Crocs, which as one joke goes, have holes in them “so your dignity can leak out”.
“Ugly” shoes like Crocs and Birkenstocks have nonetheless been quietly coming up in the world.
Last year the Scottish designer Christopher Kane produced a 500-euro ($590) line of fur-lined and crystal-encrusted Crocs.
While Vogue adored their comfort, critic Julia Hobbs said there was no getting over that “Crocs are ugly”.
– ‘Unrivalled ability to repel’ –
“They have nostril-like pores, and an upturned snout… When worn by grown-ups they have an unrivalled ability to repel onlookers and induce sneers,” Hobbs added.
Not content with attempting to rehabilitate Crocs, Gvasalia, the man behind the uber-cool Vetements label, also transformed fringed sun umbrellas into skirts and shop awnings into trousers in his Paris show.
This collection, however, was more slick than shocking, with very smart use of tartan in trousers, and tops and skirts often paired with chain straps taken from souvenir and duty free shops.
“The inherent possibilities of recognisable products and objects” and the “exaggeration of everyday styles… is the design impulse” behind the show, he wrote in his show notes.
Pants made from three different trousers spliced together made a reappearance, suggesting they are on their way to becoming a Gvasalia staple alongside thigh-high boots and buttoned-up charity shop shirts.
His new punky “super-spiked stilettoes” as he calls them, also seemed to go down well.
Other trousers printed with screensaver shots of the Alps seemed to be a nod to his new home in Zurich, whose hardcore unfashionableness he seems to revel in.
But there were also small hints that his notoriety and the hilarity sparked by his Ikea tote — and another that closely resembled a cheap Thai shopping bag — might be hemming him in.
In one look a sweater was tied around a newspaper print blouse like a straitjacket.
Yet the Georgian-born creator remains impossible to pin down and as full of surprises as ever.
The man who likes to borrow, tweak and hijack seemed to be paying backhanded homage this time to the print king Dries Van Noten in some of the rich palate of colours he used, which oozed a class befitting Balenciaga’s aristocratic roots.