Breaking the Barriers of Fashion

Fashion is an ever-changing field. Many brands are led by the market, following trends to sell more clothing. Few brands blaze a trail, showing true innovation and creativity in design. Some of the latter, such as Balenciaga and Gucci, have been able to maintain their exalted status by pushing the definitions of luxury design.

From Head to Toe

Footwear is the new battlefield for luxury fashion. Signaling the new wave of elevated normcore, many of the most influential fashion houses have been leaning into the so-called ‘dad shoes’. These intentionally casual and even ugly footwear are designed to be paired with oversized sweatshirts, baggy satin trousers, and other staples of the luxury streetwear repertoire.

Balenciaga led the charge with their infamous sock sneaker, an extra light 3D knitted sock attached to a molded athletic sole. Popular in fashion cities like New York and loved by celebrities like Bella Thorne since its launch in 2017, the sock sneaker helped баленсиага (Balenciaga) make its name in the field of avant-garde footwear.

But the brand had much more to offer. Driven by the artistic vision of designer Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga launched its ugly sneakers at the same time, reintroducing chunky, blocky, and gaudy designs in their signature Triple S range. Featuring layers of mesh, bold colors, and thick soles, the sneaker range is instantly recognizable by anybody in the know.

The big names in luxury like Prada, Valentino, and Dior Homme, and collaborations like Vetements x Reebok and Comme des Garçons x Nike, have all attempted to add inspiration to the classic sneaker.

Even brands that have been relatively conservative with footwear such as French fashion house Saint Laurent have branched out into sneakers and espadrilles. Known for their classic leather boots and patent strappy heels, Saint Laurent released a range of low-key white or silver appliquéd sneakers, with their logo embroidered along the side.

The same goes for Gucci, whose sneaker range is mainly prints and brand textiles over the standard plain low-top sneaker. Their Basket range, however, does boast some bright colors, with the multicolor Demetra models outrageously and unabashedly designed with contrasting neon. And who can forget Gucci’s iconic rubber sandals, a favorite of celebrities around the pool and on grocery runs? Gucci even created a Crocs lookalike rubber slip-on, complete with double G cutouts.

And the bulky Crocs aesthetic continues to reign in the luxury market, with Balenciaga collaborating for yet another season with the brand after its range of Crocs boots sold out in minutes. The 2022 Balenciaga x Crocs signature platform shoe was modeled by actor Elliot Page at the Paris Fashion Week red carpet show, showing a cybergoth look distinctively different from the previous collection.

Innovation for the Environment

Outside of design, luxury fashion houses are seeking new frontiers in terms of materials and sustainability. It seems like luxury brands on the whole are moving towards a more eco-conscious and humane stance. After swearing off fur, many fashion houses are now beginning to release products that feature alternatives to animal leather.

Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2022 collection promises to be its most sustainable yet, with 95 percent of materials either organic, recycled, or upcycled, and certified sustainable. In 2020, Balenciaga released the faux leather Zen sneaker, made from polyurethane. The brand’s ultra-long and ultra-pointy Space shoe from the coming 2022 collection was also molded from a leather-like EVA composite plastic material.

As for vegan designer bags, Bottega Veneta has been ahead of the curve with their first vegan collection debuting way back in 2012. Its recent Kraft collection used 100 percent recycled corrugated cardboard (covered with an aliphatic polyurethane film and a microfiber fabric) to create light and sturdy waterproof bags that are functional, sophisticated, and unlike anything else on the market.

Exotic skins and leather house Hermès has also dipped its toe into the vegan pool, creating a travel bag crafted from revolutionary mushroom-derived leather. The material used on the Victoria bag looks and feels just like animal leather but is wholly created in a lab by a Californian company financed by the likes of John Legend and Natalie Portman.

It definitely appears that plant-based fibers are on the up and up, with Parisian label Chloé using apple-based leather and the legendary Chanel using Piñatex, a material made from pineapple plant fibers.

The abovementioned Gucci Demetra sneakers were similarly made from plant-based textiles, but one developed in-house by Gucci researchers and produced solely by Gucci in Italy. According to the brand, the Demetra material is made from animal-free raw materials from sustainable and renewable sources such as wood pulp from sustainably managed forests.

And that is not all. A notable partnership between Kering—the owner of Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga—and mushroom-based leather producer Bolt Threads promises more vegan leather products to come. As innovation and inspiration infuse the top echelons of design, we can expect a fashion future that is not only groundbreaking in terms of aesthetics but sustainability as well.