Salvation Army has hijacked the release of Balenciaga's controversial $1,850 Paris sneaker, an intentionally tattered and torn high-top, with a PR stunt of its own.
The international charity just launched "Truly Destroyed," a website and fundraising initiative spotlighting threadbare shoes that once belonged to houseless folks — footwear that looks uncomfortably similar to Balenciaga's destroyed sneakers.
Mimicking the design of Balenciaga's website and campaign imagery, Truly Destroyed invites viewers to "discover the collection," a range of dirty, yellowing shoes priced at €1,450. Each "product page" boasts details including "painful fit," "detached sole," and "blood residue." Visitors are prompted to donate to Salvation Army, which helps provide food, housing, and financial assistance to those living in poverty.
"The fashion world is all about how clothes and shoes look," said Thamar Keuning, marketing and communications officer at Salvation Army ReShare. "The creativity and variety that comes with it can be wonderful, as is high fashion, or Balenciaga for that matter.
"However, it is also sometimes at odds with what clothing means to most of the people we deal with, and that is purely functional. The destroyed shoes of a homeless person opposite the high-fashion products of this fashion industry literally and symbolically reflect the inequality in the world."
Creative directors Julio Álvarez and César García clarified that Truly Destroyed isn't intended as an attack on Balenciaga, nor on creative director Demna Gvasalia.
"We have a lot of respect for Gvasalia’s vision... We understand the fashion world has its codes, and we are not here to judge them," Álvarez said.
"If anything, we're thankful they decided to come up with the limited-edition sneakers described as 'totally destroyed,' because that’s what sparked our idea: selling used sneakers worn by people living in the streets. Not treated to look destroyed, but truly destroyed, due to their tough life conditions."
However you interpret Balenciaga's Paris sneaker and Salvation Army's response, this isn't the first (or last) time class, politics, and fashion have intertwined. Take Gen Z's obsession with Carhartt and Dickies, for example, a taste for workwear traditionally favorited by blue collar workers.
Whatever Balenciaga's intention was, the Paris sneaker is more than a shoe — it's a meme, a statement on social class, and a question of appropriation.