The alliance between luxury brands and cartoons

Fashion… If we wanted to find synonyms for it, we would perhaps choose style, trend, vogue, but also seriousness. For decades, the clothing universe has been a crucial point in the identity of a culture, of a country. We often hear it said that we are what we eat, that we are also the people with whom we are. And are we also what we wear? Maybe the “magic” is just there. Perhaps many people fall in love with catwalks precisely because of this fact. Versatility, diversity, creativity and innovation… The conversation through fabrics that transform and give life to models that give them space to be and vibrate. But times change and, in addition to fabrics evolving and taking other forms, concepts and audiences also change.

A NEW BET Demna Gvasalia, Georgian fashion designer, currently creative director of Balenciaga and co-founder of Vetements, had already surprised with the creation of a version of Crocs in metal, which aims to “get closer to new generations”. The designer reinterpreted the “vulgar” rubber with a punk touch, adding a platform, screws and metal finishes.

What audiences at Paris Fashion Week this year couldn’t hope for was that the artist’s passion for the acclaimed animated series The Simpsons would be transported to the catwalks, breaking with its “traditional concept”. Gvasalia left out the supermodels to make way for the best-known yellow characters in the entertainment industry. For Spring/Summer 2022, Balenciaga’s creative director presented guests at Paris Fashion Week, which ran from September 27 to October 5, with a 10-minute video that, in reality, was nothing short of other than a personalized episode of one of the series that has had the most seasons on television – a surprise that took more than a year to come true, and the fruit of an “intensive” and ” demanding” between two very different creative entities, but both well known “for their attention to detail”.

A “LUXURY” EPISODE In the episode, Homer writes for the brand: “Cara Balun, Balloon, Baleen, Balenciaga-ga”, struggling to pronounce the name. The intention is to surprise Marge on her birthday, as his wife has always dreamed of owning something from the Spanish fashion house. And, despite the team receiving the email with some admiration, and some “contempt” for the accompanying order (“the cheapest part they have”), they comply with their request. A $19,000 dress arrives at the family’s house and Marge is quick to put it on to enjoy every possible minute (the price of the piece is high and she will have to return the khaki green dress as soon as possible). After a sequence of episodes where Homer tries to protect the dress as much as possible, so that nothing happens to him, Balenciaga employees recover the dress with the note: “Thank you! I will always remember those 30 minutes when I felt a bit special”. Back in Europe, Balenciaga’s artistic director, Demna Gvasalia, considers this note “one of the most special things he has ever had. heard in his life”. He then decided to go to Springfield, “rescue” the “deprived of style” (ordinary people) and invite them to parade their clothes in Paris, explaining that he wants “the world to see real people”. Thus, under the watchful eyes of guests such as Anna Wintour, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, the characters of the television series present the brand’s collection for spring/summer 2022. From black sets to the famous puffer jacket red worn by Homer Simpson, the highlight went to Marge who closed the show wearing a glorious gold dress to the sound of La Vie en Rose.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS The collaboration began in April 2020, when Gvasalia sent The Simpsons creator Matt Groening an email about his willingness to work together. Gvasalia, 40, who was born in Georgia and watched the show as a child, said the idea “came to her during the first lockdown in 2020”. The artistic director is already known for his tendency to insert Balenciaga into mass market trends: under his direction, the brand has collaborated with other American sensations, such as the Crocs and the game Fortnite. “I’ve always loved the wry humor, romance, and charming ingenuity of the show,” the stylist told The New York Times. However, that was not the case with Al Jean, executive producer and screenwriter of the series, who admitted that he had to search Wikipedia to find out which fashion brand Balenciaga was talking about.

According to Jean, Gvasalia “made specific contributions to the argument,” he said. For example, the episode ends with Homer hugging Marge while singing the famous French song La Mer on a party boat after the show on the Seine. But Gvasalia wanted there to be one last joke… So he asked for the father’s jacket to be set on fire by a Frenchman who was smoking a cigar next to him. Jean suggested that Anna Wintour, who had appeared in the front row of the parade, try to put out the fire with expensive champagne, which Homer tries to drink.

“We were definitely a good team to make sure everything was perfect,” he continued. “Since The Simpsons, this was the hardest thing the animation team had to do.” Silverman, who directed the 2007 film, added that the biggest challenge was achieving the “necessary precision in clothing”, which “involved inventive post-animation effects to capture the distinct textures and movement”, for example, the look of the fashion show. : “A golden metal ball gown.”

THE GREATEST DIFFICULTIES IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS Balenciaga sent the animation team 15 looks for the final show, all based on designs from the past five years. But putting them on the bodies of these universally recognizable cartoon characters wasn’t so simple: “It was difficult for us to capture the balance of the caricature and the integrity of the clothing,” Silverman said. “We translate the look of real clothes, real designs into characters that don’t have human proportions,” he explained. Silverman, also studied the runway footage to find out what the audience should wear and how the lighting should reach the runway.

The script also had to capture the “extremely vast and particular world of luxury fashion” and Balenciaga’s place in it – something that cannot be learned from Wikipedia. Jean revealed that in addition to his crash course at Balenciaga earlier in the year, he had watched the Netflix series about Halston, an American fashion designer who rose to international fame in the 1970s and was a huge fan of Balenciaga, helped him understand “the excessive and perennial culture of fashion”.

Almost all the characters in the episode are based on real people and animals: Gvasalia’s husband, Loïk Gomez, and their two dogs; creative director Martina Tiefenthaler; and Balenciaga workshop workers finishing the collection in the air. As for Gvasalia’s voice, “we tried to convince him to do it himself, but he didn’t want to,” regrets Jean. When asked why he didn’t, the art director replied, “I didn’t want to line up with anything or make sense of anything. I just wanted to create an iconic visual story.

The reasons for the alliance But beyond Balenciaga’s bet, luxury is gradually turning towards a “cartoon obsession”. “One of the biggest fights in the fashion world is to innovate. Fashion calls for innovation!” Manuel Serrão, CEO of Associação Seletiva Moda, pointed out to i. find a good way to do it, questioned itself, innovated and it’s halfway to a good reception from the public. It’s a bet that many fashion shows have made”, a- he explained.

But if the strategy of the Spanish brand was, among other reasons, “to place its exclusive product in a new environment, in this case in the universe of the Simpsons”, those of the other brands respond to a “less ambitious” motivation: Loewe, the luxury Spanish fashion house specializing in leather goods, clothing, perfumes and other fashion accessories, has launched a collection of clothing and accessories with the characters of the main character of the Japanese film O Meu Nezinho Totoro ( the brand had previously bet on the image of Dumbo, Disney’s elephant): “It represents the union of our most important values: fantasy, nature and love of handmade”, said the artistic director of the company, Jonathan Anderson, in the pre-release release. To inaugurate the Chinese New Year, last February, Gucci (which has also collaborated with Disney in previous editions) did the same with Doraemon: a collection of clothing and accessories that served as an argument to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the cosmic cat and the centenary of the Italian house. Last fall, Longchamp, the French luxury leather goods company, stamped its iconic “Le Pliage” bag with Pokémon characters, while creating an application to download the piece in virtual format and include it in the game.

“I think it’s a work of redefinition and a desire to reconcile fashion with the passage of time and the changes it brings us. It has a lot to do with changing industry needs. It’s a way of getting closer to the new generations. We are in a period of redefining, redefining what fashion coordinates are or are not,” stylist Isidro Paiva explained over the phone, adding that we are not dealing with a recent phenomenon: “This is not is not recent, we are the ones who now think we discover gunpowder when it already existed, we are only adapting it to new societies. I found it curious because I had already done this in 2016, with Marge Simpson’s face crying. I had already anticipated it in a way and now they’ve taken it,” he revealed.

What are the real reasons for this bet of the world of luxury on the magical world of cartoons? In addition to their merchandising mobilizing millions, will luxury brands really want to reach out to Gen Z? On the other hand, will they want to copy the dynamics of marketing around urban fashion? Will they want to partner with popular culture figures as a claim? Or was the initiative aimed at challenging the seriousness of fashion or the public’s notions of luxury? What we do know is that Paris Fashion Week 2022 saw the applause, whispers and music that characterize it, replaced by a good dose of fun.

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