Demna Gvasalia’s work as the artistic director of Balenciaga is nothing if not referential. The founder and head designer of the divisive label Vetements took on the role back in October 2015. Since then, the brand has been both warmly embraced—and sometimes derided—for its Bern-lenciaga emblazoned hoodies, distressed denim, oversized silhouettes and those shoes. Balenciaga under Gvasalia verges on fashion as a meme. There are so many historical, subcultural and sociological references nestled in the tailoring that it becomes hard to imagine what these collections would look like to someone outside the zeitgeist, or at least his vision of whatever the zeitgeist is. How do you even begin to approach that much allegory? The Fall 2021 show took it even further with a Balenciaga video game, of course.
While fashion and video games have courted each other for a while, the relationship seems to be getting pretty serious. One might take an educated guess that it’s a COVID-induced ‘situation-ship’, as many designers took to digital showings and the various islands of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons to interact with their fans. Fashion’s place in video games goes beyond just adapting to isolation though.
On the gaming side, skins and rare clothing items for avatars have become increasingly important—especially as graphics continue to advance towards uncanny valley levels of realistic. The parallels are drawn readily: there’s as much excitement in nabbing a rare in-game item of clothing as there is in copping the latest Supreme drop. (Well, prior to ‘preme selling out, at least.) Presciently, for the Balenciaga Fall 2021 collection, the brand dispensed entirely with a traditional show, and instead released a Balenciaga videogame, Afterworld: The Age Of Tomorrow.
The game imagines the year 2031 where everyone is wearing Balenciaga. NPCs wear the Fall 2021 collection, which also looks to the future in its use of materials and adaptable, multi-functional designs. Think oversized suits made in t-shirt jersey, pre-stretched and designed to be worn everywhere. Leave the irons and steamers in 2021, because the pre-crinkled suits aren’t meant to be ironed, they’re meant to see you through hiking, cycling or traversing a cityscape complete with a realistically austere-looking Balenciaga store.
It’s also nice to see a diverse array of ages, races and sexes wearing the satin trench-coats-as-dresses and multi-functional parkas in the Balenciaga video game, though most have model-adjacent proportions. What’s striking as well is how natural the clothes look in the game’s environment. (Which itself is stuffed with fictional and real references! Beyond the GTA-vibes, think things like a poster talking about mechanical bees working alongside real ones to pollinate plants. Again, Gvasalia is checking if you’re paying attention.)
You almost have to keep reminding yourself these are real garments that exist and can be worn IRL, beyond the video game’s URL. Well, you might have trouble with the suit of armour. Perhaps this is the very point? The importance of certain articles of clothing lies more in their digital cultural clout—usually via an Instagram post—than their actual function as a garment.
You can play through Afterworld: The Age Of Tomorrow for free here. We won’t spoil the ending, but like everything else about this, it’s prescient while being keenly aware of the past.
Imagery courtesy Balenciaga.