Balenciaga's FW18 show was notable for its lack of outrageousness, at least compared to previous shows. As models walked around a mountain of optimistic graffiti, the message was clear: This was Demna Gvasalia's most earnest collection to date and a departure from the meme-baiting crocs of previous seasons.
Speaking to The Guardian, Demna said: “At this stage, if I do a T-shirt or a jersey it needs to have something more to it." This "something more" was exemplified by the collaboration with the World Food Programme. The collab with the charity, which saw the logo printed on tees and fanny packs, was backed up with a $50,000 donation and proceeds from select FW18 items going straight to the WFP. It's as if Demna outgrew his love of irony in favor of authenticity.
So, if Demna's moved past the idea of slapping ironic words and logos on t-shirts for no reason, who the are the "Speed Hunters" who featured regularly in the collection?
While the show notes made no mention of them, WWD reported that the Speed Hunters are a fictional "boyband" and the hoodies and tees that we saw in the FW18 collection was the "concert merch." The group, a quintet of young men in matching leather jackets, had their band name rendered in a very similar font to that of the international ’90s superstars, Backstreet Boys.
Perhaps it's a commentary on the global merchandise industry — the last way for artists to generate profit while all their music is available for free — or maybe the fake boyband is a response to the more recent trend of fake celebrities, AI influencers, and digital supermodels.
"Speed Hunters" (incidentally, also the name of a popular car culture website), has actually cropped up on Balenciaga items before. Tees and polo shirts from the dad-inspired SS18 collection featured the words "Speed Hunter" printed in a faded font across the middle section. At the time of release, it was assumed to be a reference to the break-neck pace of the fashion industry, or perhaps an illicit substance from Gvasalia's clubbing days. But for now, it's a boyband.
As "earnest Demna" rolls out his combined men's and women's collections this year, time will tell what will become of the fake boy band no-one knows about, but are already wanting to cop merch for.
As Balenciaga alters the vision for FW18, we're wondering, does Demna actually know us better than we know ourselves?