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Fashion

How Balenciaga And Yeezy Are Changing The Way Merch Is Being Sold

Two brands, one theme (paparazzi shots) and how they're changing the game now.

As we enter into Fashion Month (capitalised, because fashion people take themselves very seriously), for the Fall/Winter 2018 season, industry folks and casual observers the world over are anticipating the hundreds of fashion shows and just as important – what influencers and insiders wear to attend the show.

There have been an avalanche of articles written about the growth and some might say, over-inflation of street style and influencers (see Suzy Menkes’ article here) but I digress. The new Balenciaga and Yeezy S/S’18 ad campaigns both capitalise on paparazzi images – which is something that might be conflated with street style these days, or as Menkes puts it, “cameras point as wildly at their prey (street style participants) as those original paparazzi in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita… But now subjects are ready and willing to be objects, not so much hunted down by the paparazzi as gagging for their attention”.

While the concept of mimicking paparazzi shots are certainly nothing new (see Tim Walker and Steven Meisel’s works for Vogue Italia in the ’90s and ’00s), it does make one pause when two of the buzziest personalities/luxury label unveil ad campaigns based on the same theme.

First up, a look at Balenciaga’s approach, which was shot by Sébastien Valiela:

Featuring a top-notch cast of ’90s supermodels such as Stella Tennant, Dipti Sharma, Kennah Lau, Marjitta Nissinen, Eliza Douglas, Christine Willis and Alek Wek, the Balenciaga campaign plays on the familiar images of celebrities on the sidewalks/exiting their cars, with their faces partially blocked by a well-placed handbag (Balenciaga’s, naturally).

What’s new however, is that the brand actually collaborated with a genuine French paparazzi agency (Agence Bestimage) to come up with the images. How’s that for meta? It also ties in neatly with Demna Gvasalia’s signature of re-appropriating the mundane and transforming it into desirable merchandise.

Excellent casting of models aside, if I did have a quibble with the campaign, it’s that it looks a tad too “glamourised” – I feel like I’m looking at models pretending to be celebrities and they’re not doing a very convincing job at that. But you never know, with Demna Gvasalia, it could potentially be intentional – somewhat along the lines of Inception.

Next, we have Yeezy’s campaign for Season 6:

? #YeezySeason6

A post shared by Paris Hilton (@parishilton) on

So much fun being a #KimClone in the new #YeezySeason6 campaign. ?

A post shared by Paris Hilton (@parishilton) on

#YEEZYSEASON6

A post shared by Yovanna Ventura (@yoventura) on

When the images hit the Internet, it was pretty much safe to say that people were abuzz about it. Gathering a phalanx of influencers and one Paris Hilton, they were all transformed into Kim Kardashian lookalikes (or as the woman herself puts it, #kimclones), complete with waist-length platinum blonde hair, tanned, contoured skin and outfitted in neutral-toned Yeezy separates. In other words, standard Kim K uniform.

Of course, the first coup lies in Kardashian successfully persuading supposed nemesis Hilton to pretend to be her – but the alleged hatchet (if there even was one to begin with) appears to have been buried between the two – with Kardashian even labelling Hilton as #ForevertheOG

The second layer of meta was of course, successfully recreating (and then some) the Season 6 lookbook which starred the real Kardashian herself (stay with us), which was released back in December. The campaign recreated the exact locations with the #kimclones and released them in rapid succession on the eve of the collection’s drop and sure enough, it’s on fire.

Cue Hilton, whose usual Instagram post typically averages around 100K likes – the two Yeezy shots she posted however, received between 300K – 400K each, easily outstripping the “popularity” of her standard posts.

Meanwhile, the #YeezySeason6 hashtag alone has more than 10K posts as of press time. Add the fact that each of the influencers of the Yeezy ad campaign – Yovanna Ventura (5.3m), Sarah Synder (1.6m), Amina Blue (600+k) and more – each possessing a formidable following ranging from the hundreds of thousands running into the millions, and really, you’re looking at a marketing strategy that’s ahead of the curve.

It’s surely a divisive campaign, as evidenced in an Instagram post by industry publication Business of Fashion, which asked if Balenciaga could “benefit from the same (Yeezy) effect”.

A scroll through the 200+ or so comments would reveal that readers were more or less split between which campaign nailed the theme better. Personally, I’m inclined to go with Yeezy’s – so many layers of meta! It doesn’t hide the fact that it’s more what is traditionally considered “low-brow” (porn stars were also enlisted in the campaign), it’s witty (Paris Hilton as Kim Kardashian? Is there possibly a better way to break the Internet?) and it feels truly irreverent.

As Vogue puts it, “The new imagery also spits in the eye of good taste, and the industry’s current intersectional-feminist mood. Showing easy, streetwise clothes where they’re guaranteed to be seen—and bought—by a maximum number of people a maximum number of times doesn’t just challenge the traditional fashion show; it suggests a brand scheming to upend the top-down nature of fashion itself.”

The coincidental timing of both Balenciaga and Yeezy’s campaigns (both came out in the same week) does raise an eyebrow – and raises the question whether or not West and Kardashian had secretly worked out some pact with Demna Gvasalia (another layer of meta right there). While I don’t suppose we will ever know, it’s a truly fresh approach towards selling an image – which is what fashion is essentially about.

Like this? Check out why the Internet is going nuts over Kylie Jenner’s emotional birth reveal, the fashion pack’s guide to dressing for a music festival and the S/S’18 ad campaigns that will make you do a double take