American designer Ralph Rucci this past week decided he had enough of designer Demna Gvasiala and ripped into him on Instagram in a post he deleted not long after. Rucci posted an image of the insanely popular and controversial Balenciaga Triple S sneaker and proceeded to go off with a lengthy comment.
Rucci reflects on an ongoing divide in fashion (everything is divided!) with the traditionalists who live and die by fine design on one side with street-fueled zeitgeist kids on the other side. It’s partially generational though there are plenty of young people who are offended by the high-end street fashion movement.
The Triple S epitomizes the division. Massive in size, some love it for the over-the-top, fun statement it makes while others view it as an abomination and a joke. Even sneaker lovers are divided on the shoe. While controversial, there’s no denying the shoe was powerful enough to push the dad shoe trend into high gear, which is no small feat (literally).
Ricci is among those who view the shoe as a joke. In his Instagram post he wrote, “I have been told to be quiet and I have turned my eyes away but I cannot tolerate this any longer. This is the ultimate in EVERYTHING [Balenciaga founder Cristóbal Balenciaga] did not strive for. They have taken his name and conveniently used as a springboard for such mediocrity, such tastelessness, such mediocre ideas. Without balance, respect for proportion, without quality, without integrity just the whoreish greed to sell a gym shoe, a t-shirt, a back pack. Enough, remove his name from all this garbage. Rename it with something that mirrors what it is.”
For a little history, Balenciaga founded his label 1919. Having a mother who was a seamstress no doubt gave him a head start and was a foundation for his unique and beautifully designed garments that exuded a sculptural quality. As well regarded as he was as a designer, he also helped launch the career of legends Oscar de la Renta, Andre Courreges, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy, all of whom worked under him for a time. Balenciaga closed down the label and its various houses in 1968 and he passed away six years later at the age of 74.
The label was revived in 1987 and has been headed by five different designers, most recently Alexander Wang, who was with the label for three years and was also the subject of a lot of criticism. Walking in the steps of a true design legend is never easy.
As for Gvasiala, he’s been the lead designer at Kering-owned Balenciaga for just three years. He and his brother, Guram, also head up Vetements, an independent endeavor they started in 2009. While he may not possess Balenciaga’s storied history, his resume is substantial and includes attendance at Royal Academy of Fine Arts and lead design positions at Maison Martin Margiela and Louis Vuitton.
While Rucci may not be happy with Gvasiala, Kering is thrilled. Balenciaga’s CEO Cedric Charbit revealed this week (May 22, 2018) at Financial Times luxury goods conference in Venice, Italy that the label is now Kering’s fastest-growing brand.
In addition to his street-inspired approach, Gvasiala has also come under fire for not just taking design inspiration from his time at Maison Margiela, but straight stealing designs.
Recently, the Gvasialas brothers also came under heat when Vetements was the subject of a thinly-sourced HighSnobiety article claiming the label had fallen off. Guram pushed back on the accusation, which ultimately was refuted by two different articles in which multiple retailers went on the record to say the brand is still flourishing.
Given Gvasiala’s very high-profile, it’s not surprising he has some haters, some legitimate, some just bitter. Among the purists, the problem is that high fashion doesn’t really pay the bills (and Ricci knows this!). Yes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton show couture (and by the way, Balenciaga was once but is not a currently a member of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture), but those events are more of a marketing effort because the majority of luxury label sales are made through handbag, shoe, accessory and perfume sales.
There is a war waging in fashion between lovers of fine design and those who celebrate a statement-making hoodie, but for sure we’re not going back to the era that fostered the rise of Balenciaga and his peers. While it’s a shame that fine design has become relegated to museum exhibits and red carpets, as it happens the period was also joined at the hip with a much more conservative value system (when men were men) and a highly-gated (and intensely racist) fashion media.
The high-end street aesthetic that many hate is attached to a more inclusive set of values. That doesn’t mean it’s above evaluation, but criticism should take a big picture approach as opposed to a view based in a narrow form of nostalgia. As Coco Chanel once astutely stated, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
Check out Ricci’s Instagram post along with feedback from some of our followers below.