Originally renowned for its Flamenco and bullfighter inspired designs loved by the Spanish monarchy, the Balenciaga legacy is one that any modern day designer would be proud to own. With designs spanning almost a century, the Spanish atelier may have been expected by many in the industry to cling to its antiquated designs and roots in luxury. However, under the artistic direction of Demna Gvasalia, famed for his designs with iconic streetwear brand Vetements, the Balenciaga brand has created real disruption in both its own legacy and the fashion industry as a whole.
In recent years, Balenciaga has come to represent the antithesis of the luxurious fashion industry as we know it. Inspired by the irony and innate humour of Gen Z, the brand has morphed into a meme of Haute-Couture and takes a light-hearted jab at the pretentiousness of fashion. Creating real distance from its royal roots, Balenciaga has playfully glamorised and reimagined everyday, tacky items as seen through the brand’s platform Crocs and its take on the big blue IKEA bag. These designs are just two of many that have contributed to a seismic cultural moment in how we perceive and understand luxury brands and products. This unique approach has had a profound impact on the market, causing consumers to cast aside stalwart hard-hitters like Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, in favour of Balenciaga’s quirkier designs.
“I don’t think elegance is relevant”, Demna Gvasalia proudly stated in 2018, a statement that has come to design and influence so much of the Balenciaga collection since then. What we do know to be relevant these days, is consciousness and functionality. People are demanding more from their brands across the board, a trend which has now come to make its mark on even the most luxurious of designers. The recent rise in popularity of brands such as Birkenstocks, Filas and New Balance that were once consigned to the more practical members of our society, are proof enough of this.
With the fashion industry in particular coming under fire for its wastefulness, cultural insensitivity and exploitative pricing, in order for brands to survive, they need to evolve to meet this evolution in public conscience. By going against the tropes of luxury and decadence, Balenciaga has rebranded itself as the coveted cool kid on the market; accessible and unpretentious designs communicated through forward-thinking means. The brand has inverted the notion of exclusivity in the fashion industry, making it not so much who can afford it, but who actually gets it. Becoming a kind of Berghain of the fashion industry, Balenciaga is the fastest growing luxury label in the world and everyone wants in on it.
Playing with designs and concepts, the brand’s irreverent air smacks of authenticity and a relatable imperfection that resonates with Gen Zs and aspirational millennials, looking for something different than the tired luxury of other fashion houses. In particular, the brand’s modern and non-wasteful approach to communications is helping to really build awareness and target audiences beyond usual reach. It is the execution of these digital strategies that help to really set Balenciaga apart from the others. Here’s a few examples of how the Balenciaga’s unique strategy is executed in practice:
Personality and tone of voice is conveyed purely through visuals
Balenciaga have made the clear stylistic choice to use no copy or written messaging across all its digital presences, feeding into the anti-luxury brand image they are cultivating. Opting not to use captions or hashtags across social channels, even eschewing dialogue in video content, the brand instead relies on visuals to convey its personality. Balenciaga’s tongue-in-cheek humour is made clear through the brand’s quirky visual style and their parodies of pop culture.
Their website is minimalist in the extreme
Adding to this anti-brand persona, the Balenciaga website has no messaging or content about the brand, and visitors must click several pages deep before seeing a single image. It functions like a simple ecommerce website, with entirely non-descriptive product descriptions and imagery.
Social media is central to their strategy
Looking to their Gen-Z target audience for inspiration, Balenciaga focuses all its marketing efforts into the social channels their audience use most; Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, leaving Facebook and Twitter profiles blank. The brand successfully uses Instagram to create surreal, meme-worthy photography that their audience love.
Secondary tactics are leveraged to sell their products
Balenciaga’s current collections are advertised in their Instagram story highlights, or are hidden in the “Collections” section of their website. Sales are boosted by the plethora of influencers such as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid being photographed with their products.
These digital strategies remain relatively new and with Balenciaga’s rebrand still in its infancy, there is no way of saying right now if Gvasalia’s bold risk-taking will pay off in the long-term for the brand. The designs as well as approach may alienate many sections of a demographic with the expendable income to afford Balenciaga, leaving them feeling unrepresented. Or, it could kick-start a revolution in luxury fashion and redefine what consumers expect and want from our top-tier brands.