September 11, 2018

Growing up, I believed that Crocs were the worst aberrations in the history of shoes, beating out the likes of dad sandals and chunky trainers for that elusive title. It was as if somebody set out with the intention of scandalising and offending the senses. The grotesque silhouette of their flagship sandal is horribly unflattering, adding unnecessary bulk to the wearer’s feet with blatant disregard for elegance. The holes that pepper the majority of the shoe, which are supposed to promote breathability, only make them that much more unsightly. And the final nail in the coffin? That clumsy strap at the back locking your foot into eternal servitude in plastic purgatory.

The Teletubbies would shudder to be caught dead in them, and they’re no trendsetters. Even now that they’ve branched out into other models like flats, flip flops, or even heels, each descendant of the Crocs family shares the same swollen toecap that calls pig trotters to mind. If you’re a fan of Crocs, I do apologise, but those clogs are a crime.

If you share my revulsion for ugly footwear, you can imagine my initial horror when Balenciaga had done the unthinkable by resurrecting two of the unholy trinities—crocs and dad trainers. Let’s leave dad sandals out for now. 

Behold, how the tables have turned. At first, I was convinced that the Balenciaga Platform Crocs were a joke. I was close-minded, thinking it was sacrilegious for a high fashion brand to be dipping its toes into the arena dominated by these plastic feet holders. But Balenciaga had literally elevated the Croc. My mind was thrown into turmoil. A fashion heavyweight had made a pair of shoes in the image of a brand that (in my opinion, at least) isn’t considered trendy. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming—after all, they are the brand that recreated IKEA’s tarp-like cobalt tote and sold it for upwards of two grand. Trust Balenciaga to marry function and fashion, with their own spin. No matter how polarising the shoes are, you can’t deny that they’re revolutionary.

Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself ten years ago and just cringed? The Balenciaga Triple S trainers seem to be the physical embodiment of that ineffable phenomenon—squeamishly reminiscent of the 90s dad aesthetic. Presenting ubiquitous white laces punctuated with an offensive neon that call the sports shoe home, patches of faded colours, and a dirty yellow-ish hue that gives the sneaker an already-worn-in look. Balenciaga’s website describes it tersely: “Oversized multimaterial sneakers with quilted effect.” HaI thought. But the joke was on me—not only is this product also sold out, it has inspired an entire cult following of street-savvy fashionistas who have taken to the trend like vegans to organic produce. Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior, and Gucci have been quick to hop on to the bandwagon and offer their own rendition of the ugly dad sneaker to all-too-willing customers. Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner are just some of the many It girls who have stepped out in pairs of their own.

When Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his first boutique in Spain in 1919, chances are he didn’t realise his brand would one day become one of the tastemakers of the fashion world. But he always was an odd one. Even in the 50s, he displayed his penchant for the unconventional: in a time where other designers like Coco Chanel were embracing feminine silhouettes, he chose to make clothes that were voluminous and free and insisted on playing by his own rules. He later went on to invent two fabrics: Gazar, a stiff and gauzy kind of silk, and Cracknyl, a synthetic imitation leather, materials that continue to pervade the industry. Decades on, the house of Balenciaga continues to push frontiers in fashion and redefine our perceptions of what haute couture can look like.

Current lead designer of Balenciaga and Vetements, Demna Gvasalia does not beat around the bush in describing the brand’s recent offerings as “ugly fashion.” In fact, he proudly told The Guardian in an interview earlier this year that he does not believe “elegance is relevant”. In the changing face of fashion, kudos to Gvasalia and his cohort of haute couture mavericks for daring to go the other way and challenging us to reconsider our notions of fashion and style.

I think I might even give the dad sneakers a whirl, just for kicks.

Hero Image: Balenciaga