The Unsuspecting Inspiration Behind Balenciaga's Cult Sneakers

By now, it’s not breaking news that Balenciaga is into unconventional footwear, for lack of a better word. With iterations ranging from sock-like sneakers, to pant-shoe hybrids, to platform crocs, the brand has become synonymous with styles that would typically be shunned if it were created by anyone else. However, Balenciaga has proven that it’s not a typical brand, with its unexpected shoes being some of the brand’s most recognisable and sought-after pieces to-date. In taking styles we would normally shun and re-adapting them, Balenciaga somehow creates something desirable along the way.

Perhaps it is the magic of subtle-ugly at work. In our human ability to recognise imperfections in the shoes, we somehow find them more… appealing? Relatable? Whatever the reason, something about the slight off-ness of Balenciaga’s unsightly silhouettes is pulling customers in, time and time again. In fact, the brands latest Triple S style made up 52 percent of all luxury sneaker sales in 2017 alone, High Snobiety reports.

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You could say that we've evolved into a society that demands both fashion and functionality, and Balenciaga is leading the game. “What began a few seasons ago as a resurgence of sportswear in fashion… has seemingly mutated into something stranger and more niche. An aesthetic that’s bordering on bird watcher-chic”, Esquire quips. And though this may seem like nothing but a wistful remark, there’s an undeniable kernel of accuracy at the centre of the argument. Consider what Refinery29 calls “the second renaissance of leggings” in the early 2000s, for example. People are getting more comfortable with admitting that comfortable clothing can be fashionable—and the popularity of Balenciaga’s ugly sneakers speaks to that fact.

However, though the recent iterations of the Triple S are probably the brands most recognisable at this point, Balenciaga is no stranger to the concept. In fact, the brand was making ugly sneakers all the way back in 2014. While the rest of us were just warming up to the idea of Birkenstocks coming back and socks paired with heels, Balenciaga was way ahead of the game, already rolling out it’s signature “running shoe silhouette with heavy duty details”, as noted by NSS Magazine.

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So what has changed? Has the general consensus just finally caught up with what’s fashionable or has Balenciaga just gotten better at selling its ambience to everyday civilians? We can’t say for sure, but we’re willing to bet it has something to do with Demna Gvasalia’s takeover as the brand’s artistic director back in 2015. GQ put it best, noting that “to date, there is perhaps no better example of Gvasalia's ‘ugly is actually pretty’ vibe than the brand's new ‘Triple S’ sneakers.” And we can’t contest that that’s true.

Though the clunky design may seem absurd to the naked eye, athletes are sure to recognise resemblances between Balenciaga’s high-fashion versions and technical sportswear. It’s no coincidence, as moulds were taken in creating the Triple S from “ basketball and track shoes, which were then stacked to create the silhouette”. So, that’s where the name comes from: Triple S refers to the three layers of soles.

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Who would have thought that something so high-fashion would have come from something built for function, as sports footwear is. But we’re beginning to think that functioning fashion is only just beginning to take off. Leggings have become everyday pants, athletic-inspired ugly shoes are all the rage, and famous street wear designers are now designing for classical fashion houses (we’re looking at you, Louis Vuitton). Maybe in 2018 being done-up feels overdone, or maybe our society is just becoming more active—but whatever the reason, watch this space. Balenciaga’s Triple S has us convinced that this is just the beginning of unsuspecting (not necessarily aesthetic) history of trends inspired by function, not form.

Though the Triple S Sneakers are nearly universally sold out, you can still shop other Balenciaga shoe styles on Farfetch.