One Year Post-Scandal, Where Does Balenciaga Stand?

In many ways, Demna’s Los Angeles show marked a return to form for the brand, but the response to its familiar feel is split.

Fashion 
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Just 13 months ago, Balenciaga’s name was riddled with scandal, thanks to two controversial campaigns: one showcasing children with BDSM-inspired teddy bear bags and another that included SCOTUS documents regarding child pornography laws, a one-two punch of poor taste. Just this past weekend, the brand touched down in Los Angeles for its Fall 2024 show, where its culture-poking personality seemingly returned to form with an influencer-teasing Erewhon collaboration, bubbled-up 3XL sneakers, a headline-harnessing Cardi B runway appearance and a front row that was filled with everyone from Nicole Kidman and Lil Wayne to Lisa Rinna and Kim Kardashian.

One might call the spectacle satirical, a perversive commentary on LA’s wellness-crazed, followers-focused lifestyles. Others might see this as the brand’s revival, blaming only the fashion industry’s bad memory for Demna’s swift comeback to better graces. But, at the core of it all, Balenciaga’s Fall 2024 show not only marked a departure from the brand’s temporarily pared-back image for the last two seasons but an engine-revving charge through the city’s Hancock Park neighborhood and right back toward its once-celebrated Demna-isms.

Following last year’s controversies, Demna sat down with Vogue and promised: “I will have a more mature and serious approach to everything I release as an idea or an image. I have decided to go back to my roots in fashion as well as to the roots of Balenciaga, which is making quality clothes – not making image or buzz.”

Despite Demna’s promises, his product was as buzzy as ever. Sure, there were distinct callbacks to Cristobal’s days with voluminous white gowns and much of the collection’s color palette was neutral, but the brand’s former signatures — parodic accessories, fame-filled crowds, noise-making spectacles — were overpowering.

The press that followed Balenciaga’s Fall 2024 show was largely positive. GQ called it a “big, beautiful American Dream” and Harper’s Bazaar said it was “a love letter to Hollywood’s princess, punks, pop stars, and whoever else you want to be.” Celebrities put their stamp of approval on the designer simply by showing up; 2 Chainz shared an image of himself and Lil Wayne seated in the front row, and Kidman signed on as an ambassador for the brand on the same day. Kardashian, also an ambassador, who stated that she was “reevaluating [her] relationship with the brand” at the time of the scandal, boldly stepped out of her Escalade alongside Kendall Jenner, shielded only by a pair of the brand’s signature sunglasses.

That’s not to say that everyone has moved on. LN-CC’s Editor-at-Large Steve Salter, for one, recently shared some honest thoughts on Balenciaga’s LA display: “For me, this show was either the result of C-suite pressure (desperation) from Kering to reposition Balenciaga as the moneymaker or was Demna’s farewell collection collaging much of his work with the house. Or, it’s both.” Whether or not Kering is breathing down Demna’s neck for sales dollars, and even if Salter’s prediction for the end of the designer’s Balenciaga era is true, the brand has largely overcome its tainted reputation, at least from the industry’s perspective.

But let’s not forget the sheer amount of attention that the Balenciaga scandal generated on social media, particularly from people outside the fashion world. The #CANCELBALENCIAGA hashtag, which, to date, has more than 300 million views on TikTok, was jammed with videos of people chopping up their Balenciaga bags, burning the label’s Speed Trainers and tearing down logo posters from their walls. The online hate reached heights unseen by fashion before, so much so that the narrative was entirely blown out of proportion on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight — a since-canceled show that was known for pushing ludicrous QAnon-propagated conspiracy theories — which condemned the brand for promoting “sex with children.”

Thanks to the outlandish smear campaign, the public’s memory is much sharper on the subject of Balenciaga. Hypebeast’s social media posts regarding the label’s Fall 2024 show were full of comments from “thought we cancelled this brand already” to “wasn’t this brand cancelled for openly promoting pedophilia?” The “cancel culture” surrounding the debacle is a product of the Internet’s toxicity. And the comments on Balenciaga’s owned accounts are far less scathing, but who’s to say that they’re not monitoring those on their own time?

Where people might still hold designers like Alexander Wang, who faced several sexual assault allegations in 2020, up to their wrongdoings, the debate surrounding Demna’s Balenciaga is much hotter — and that can be accredited to both the magnitude of the scandal and the unparalleled fanfare that the designer previously created through the brand’s world.

Demna, pre-controversy, constructed a new blueprint for building a fashion brand’s identity. He was adored (and still is, by many) for his otherworldly universes — be them windstruck snowstorms, mirky mud baths or dystopic stock exchanges — and the needle-pushing wardrobes that accompanied them, which, together, would often stake a claim as the most talked-about show during any fashion week. Demna not only mastered the craft of capturing the industry’s attention but also the consumers that sit outside of it. He turned the brand into one of the most-coveted labels on the modern-day market and deserves the crown for doing so. Today, those who miss the designer’s imaginative fashionscapes long for more of them. Balenciaga fans want Demna to be Demna.

Had Demna not promised to alter his approach to design at Balenciaga following the controversies, perhaps his shift back to normalcy would have appeared less stark. His quite obvious — and rather quick — return to signatures has caught some onlookers by surprise. On the one hand, it begs the question of whether or not his multiple, expertly articulated apologies were as sincere as they seemed; but on the more forgiving other, one could argue that Demna simply can’t help but be himself.

There’s no contesting Balenciaga’s grand restoration, but it’s ultimately up to the people to decide where their hearts — and maybe even Demma’s heart — lie(s).

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