I could hear them before I saw them. At the Balenciaga Spring 23 show, which took place on the site of the New York Stock Exchange, most of those present took their seats when the other side of the trading terminal heard a rubber squeak. It was E, a native of Kanye West, in the biggest boots I had ever seen. Which says something when you consider that Ye himself introduced into the lexicon of menswear colossal, OSHA-approved ones such as the Red Wing 3094s. But the new Balenciagas Ye, which officially debuts on the runway in a few minutes, raises his love for exaggerated proportions (and what one writer called “chic shale country chic”) to even more provocative heights.
Balenciaga calls them Steroid Boots, a conceptual sequel to the viral galoshes that the brand released along with Crocs earlier this year. Like Crocs, the rubber ‘Roids’ are made of one shape – zoom in and you’ll see a faint seam running along the Ronald MacDonald-style trail. In a press release, Balenciaga describes the boots as “thick in volume but light”. They look like emergency diving boots designed to keep a frogman at anchor on the seabed; in fact, they are likely to swim.
The new silhouette begs the question: has Ye, Balenciaga’s main client and Demna employee, become something more like a muse for the house’s creative director? (Demna, very similar to Ye, gave up her last name late last year.) You didn’t wear one of your infamous masks at the Spring 23 show, but the models were clad in fancy latex face masks that obscured their faces. He is also Adidas ’most influential and well-known employee, and I wonder if he advised Demna on the Balenciaga x Adidas collection presented yesterday.
E’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian is certainly the face of Balenciaga and helped Demne perform some of the brand’s most spectacular tricks, such as when she and the designer attended the Met Gala in black shrouds all over her body. Your role may be less public, but even more influential. His taste for heavy proportions from below has already influenced a generation of hype beasts, and when models made their way across the NYSE, it was hard to imagine how silhouetted he felt legible without E and his bizarre public-style experiments to show fans how to pull. off. It goes without saying that the general public will most likely be fooling around with a pair of boots that are suitable for, you know, circus clowns. Not that Demna – or E – cares. “I’m not interested in anything average, including the average consumer,” Gvasal told GQ about the Croc-boots controversy, so to speak. “If someone is personally offended by Crocs,” he said, “that person may have a more serious problem than shoe design.”
While everyone stared at Ye’s new boots, Frank Ocean walked down Wall Street almost unnoticed. These days you may have a whole legion of such fans, but Ocean is a true northern star for tasteful guys who dress up for others with taste. A few seasons ago, Ocean wore a Prada derby, ugly denim with a truly versatile, unobtrusive style, vintage green Adidas hoodies with zippers (worn on the source material for a collaboration presentation – very cool) and what looks like an incomprehensible cap of a baseball team. Under the hoodie? Prada floor shirt. Not many people can wear a polo shirt with protected protection on a fashion show and look as cool and confident as Ocean. But what’s remarkable about the egregious exaggerations of E and Demna is that they create space for more subtle expression. And when everyone wears a pair of steroids, the blue polo shirt starts to look more than elegant – it also looks a bit subversive.