These Balenciaga jeans aren’t real denim: Why Haute couture is obsessed with subverting the truth

By Jennifer Raymont

Published Jul 6, 2023 at 02:38 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

This week saw fashion fiends once again taking over Paris as they flocked to the Haute couture shows taking place in fashion’s capital. Viktor & Rolf sent models down the runway with mannequin men in suits wrapped around them while Jean Paul Gaultier’s FW24 couture collection was guest designed by Julien Dossena. Cardi B, however, stole the show as she rushed between shows in toilet brush- inspired fits, and we loved it.

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Of course, the yet to be cancelled Spanish fashion house Balenciaga, held its FW23 Haute couture show yesterday afternoon. With Anna Wintour smiling in the front row, it seems like fashion has already moved on with the scandal that took over the controversial fashion house late last year. While we’re still questioning why creative director Demna hasn’t lost his job yet, Balenciaga sure does know how to do couture.

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The highlight of the show was a 3D printed armoured gown inspired by Joan of Arc. Despite the brand’s previous track record and highly unpleasant child pornography scandal, the internet still ate up the look. Other looks included windswept scarves and a pink gown that looked suspiciously like Valentino’s PP pink collection. Notably the fashion house also sought to manipulate the denim look with oil-painted jeans and denim co-ords.

The trompe l’oeil jeans made of oil-painted cotton are undeniably captivating, but as is the nature of haute couture,  the steep price tag of $27,000 presents a significant catch. I suppose some masterpieces from the likes of Monet and Van Gogh go for millions, but I’d be hesitant to drop that much on Balenciaga—and so would my bank account.

Balenciaga certainly isn’t the first house to try and deceive our eyes. Diesel’s FW23 ready-to-wear collection featured some similarly painted denim going against the brand’s signature devoré style. Never forget how Jean Paul Gaultier’s subversive x-ray body prints were relentlessly ripped off by fast fashion giants too. LOEWE has also been testing our eyesight with hyper-realistic fishbowl dresses, anthurium dresses, and squishable Polly Pocket clothes, the list goes on.

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So why are fashion houses so obsessed with subverting the truth with their clothes? First things first, this aspiringly surrealist trend creates something to talk about. Nowadays fashion is about getting views and going viral (Balenciaga knows a thing or two about that). Illusions spark innovation and really pushes what can be done when we start to manipulate the fabrics that we’re all so used to.

On the other hand, is it taking the truth out of fashion and making it even more inaccessible? In its simplest form, fashion is an element  linked to everyone, on account of the fact that we all have to wear clothes, regardless of whether we care about trends or not. I’m reminded of high fashion’s obsession with stealth wealth—this might just be an extension of it, as given how convincing the painted effect is on the Balenciaga jacket, you’d really have to be in the know to know it was oil paint and not, you know, a normal denim jacket.

Is anyone actually going to wear some jeans drenched in oil paint? Not only is it expensive but oil- painted clothes sound messy, my denim dungarees are already covered in specs of paint after many impromptu DIY sessions.

Elsa Schiaparelli first brought Surrealism to the fashion industry, with a knitted scarf image worked into a  jumper, back in 1927.

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If I’m honest, today  it’s giving moustache and glasses print tee girlies,  that definitely had our younger selves in a chokehold throughout the 2010s. Now, the brand’s evolved to producing things like metal breastplates, while never quite losing that surreal touch. One garment that stands out in particular is the lung shaped chest piece adorned by Bella Hadid at the Cannes film festival in 2021.

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The coming together of Haute couture and Surrealism makes sense. Haute couture is the finest form of fashion, where one-off custom designs become works of art without the intention of ever being worn. But come on guys, we can do better than fake denim co ords can’t we? The Balenciaga oil painted jeans are absurdly expensive but maybe it’s inspiration for your next craft project? So grab your oil paint and some old jeans and give Balenciaga’s Demna a run for his money.

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